Rural school leaders left to muddle through

john-halseyAlmost half of Australia’s educational leaders in regional, rural and remote areas are, by their own admission, inexperienced and ill prepared for their roles, a conference in Canberra heard today (February 22).

Presenting the preliminary results from a national survey conducted last year, Professor John Halsey (pictured), who holds the Sidney Myer Chair in Rural Education at Flinders University, said that 46 per cent of the respondents said that they had no preparation for leadership – another 29 per cent said they had only attended short courses.

For 83 per cent, their first appointment as an educational leader was to a rural school.

“Given the complexity of leading and managing rural schools, these are concerning figures, especially as many rural communities are facing real and persistent survival and viability challenges,” Professor Halsey said.

“School principals and leaders fulfil a crucial role in these communities, and they require and deserve much better than a ‘sink or swim’ approach from their employers.”

Speaking to a conference of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, Professor Halsey said even though almost three quarters of the 683 participants rated their job satisfaction at 80 per cent or better, 90 per cent said that becoming a rural educational leader needed a better pathway.

Among the issues that school leaders identified in the Flinders University survey as most demanding to manage were accessing services to support students with disabilities; ensuring that students have effective and reliable ICT; and recruiting staff and managing staff absences.

When asked to choose from a list of options to improve career pathways in the bush, the leaders gave virtually equal weight to increased financial incentives and to public acknowledgement of the value of their work by their employing authorities, but nominated better financial incentives as the single most important factor.

Professor Halsey said a proposal for a national centre and program for rural education and community leaders is being developed by Flinders University in collaboration with Principals Australia.

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