Going to the bush ‘not just about the bucks’

Professor John Halsey.

For school leaders in rural areas, taking on the job is not all about the money, Flinders University research has found.

Analysis of 426 survey responses, published in the latest issue of Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, shows that people become rural educational leaders for a wide range of reasons.

Given the emphasis often placed on financial incentives by education departments to attract and retain staff for country schools, authors Professor John Halsey and Dr Aaron Drummond said it was surprising that only seven respondents referred directly to extra money.

“This is good news, and clearly supports the need to have recruitment policies and practices which are targeted and nuanced rather than ones which just rely on money to fill country leadership vacancies,” said Professor Halsey, the Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities.

The research analysed responses of country educational leaders from around Australia to the question: briefly describe why you applied for a rural/regional/remote leadership position.

The responses fell into 19 groups of reasons, with “career” (a total of 31), “to make a difference” (32) and “prefer the country” (64), being the most frequently cited reasons.

Lifestyle was cited by 36 people and opportunities for leadership by 27.

“In essence, the research shows that educational leaders apply to work in rural, regional or remote areas for either professional, personal, or place – ‘I like living there’ – reasons, or combinations thereof,” Professor Halsey said.

“Applying to be an educational leader in the country is motivated by pragmatism (‘the thing to do at this stage of my career and life’), opportunism (‘opportunities exist that don’t occur in the metropolitan area’), idealism (‘I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem’) or a blending of them.”

The Reasons and Motivation Matrix (RaMM) developed by the researchers shows that attracting and retaining leaders for rural, regional and remote schools has multi-dimensional factors.

“The research provides good evidence that to be effective, the rural recruitment strategies of education departments need to be comprehensive and flexible – simply waving a wallet is not the answer,” Professor Halsey said.

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