Principals are seen as the font of all knowledge about teaching and learning.
They run multi-million dollar budgets, use data and evidence to inform teaching practice, support children with special needs, navigate a complex operational environment and engage with their local communities.
It’s a hugely demanding job and every principal will tell you how busy they are just dealing with the day-to-day demands of running their school.
Research over the past 25 years demonstrates that principals are critical to school, teacher and student improvement and the most effective school leaders have a sustained focus on improving teacher quality and student learning.
The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation in NSW is our one-stop-shop for research and analysis and its publication, Effective Leadership, provides valuable information about the style of school leadership that has the biggest impact on student learning.
The most effective leadership has a very strong instructional focus and constantly seeks to improve student learning and outcomes.
Instructional leaders focus clearly on students and analyse the impact of the teachers and the school on learning.
These leaders are in the classroom observing lessons, working with teachers on targeted professional development to enhance teaching, modelling high expectations for both students and teachers and creating a school environment that fosters, supports and prioritises learning and student wellbeing.
Principals who are instructional leaders have three to four times greater impact on student results than transformational leadership (Robinson, Bendikson & Hattie 2011).
Every education system is, of course, different.
In NSW we are working systemically to lift the standard of all our schools, because if we lift schools we will lift the system.
And we know we can lift schools through instructional leadership. Our new School Leadership Strategy for the 2200 public schools in NSW responds to the research on instructional leadership and to the findings of an independent study the Department of Education commissioned into principals’ workload to identify the pressure points on principals’ time.
We engaged Deloitte to undertake the principal workload and time use study and the findings validated what many principals have told us anecdotally.
Principals reported that 40 per cent of their time was spent on school management and 30 per cent on leading the teaching and learning within the school.
The factors that took them away from instructional leadership included insufficient administrative support, not enough training or preparation for the role, and inadequate tools or systems to meet the demands and pressures of the job.
In September we announced the first tranche of the School Leadership Strategy to significantly increase the department’s support for school leaders so they can focus on leading teaching and learning.
The strategy focuses on quality leadership preparation and development; stronger collegial support for school leaders; and improved services and support to schools.
Next year we will create our own Leadership Institute to provide more and better support for current and future principals.
The institute will start with a focus on aspiring principals and we want to put several hundred leaders through a development program so that when they start on day one as a principal, they are systematically prepared for that role.
Over time the Leadership Institute will grow to support leaders and aspiring leaders in all types of roles.
It will provide systematic development and a focused suite of courses and programs that are essential to meeting the leadership challenges in schools.
We will be developing these courses in the department, with professional organisations and universities.
We see great value in this education being offered through the Leadership Institute, and we will also offer 20 scholarships a year for principals to go overseas together to undertake a major training program, to learn together and come back and share their learnings and experience with us.
The strategy puts a big focus on leadership development and stronger collegial support.
Just like our principals, we found that our school directors are incredibly busy and don’t have enough time to fulfil the valuable mentoring and support role we want them to have.
The average director looks after 34 schools, which is far too many, so we are recruiting new directors to lower this ratio to one director for 20 schools.
The role of Director, Educational Leadership will be focused on being an ally and a sounding board for principals.
To provide better services and support, there is an extra $50 million in flexible funding to schools next year.
This is funding to release principals from administration or other tasks that take them away from instructional leadership.
Principals, as the key teaching and learning agents in schools, will decide how best to spend the money.
It might be buying in more administration support, joining with other schools to employ a business manager, or providing more release time for the school’s senior team.
The School Leadership Strategy is just the first phase of our commitment to improve services and support to our principals, now and in the future.
By investing in our people, we are investing in the future of our children and young people.