Rural principals need help: study

Australia’s rural school principals are ill prepared for the complexities of their roles, with an urgent need for more professional development.

Flinders University Doctor of Education candidate, Kathryn Hardwick-Franco, has written a critical assessment of the current limited preparation of rural school principals, published in the July-September edition of science policy journal Australian Quarterly.

Principals need help to address a wide range of issues, from the demands of student learning right through to incidents of domestic violence, juvenile justice, mental health and issues relating to Indigenous students.

The research found that 46% of Australian school principals reported having undertaken no training before taking on the job, with this statistic having a pronounced influence in rural areas where principals have limited access to further professional development.

“Someone needs to speak on behalf of rural principals to draw attention to this issue, and this story provides the data required to qualify what they are challenged with,” says Ms Hardwick-Franco, who will be publishing a book in 2019 based on data sets compiled through her doctoral research.

“It’s a big national question that needs a solution and action. It has been proved that a trained principal registers improved teaching outcomes, but rural principals can’t access adequate training.

“I feel this is inequitable and a presents a social justice problem, putting rural school principals at a severe disadvantage,” says Ms Hardwick-Franco, who says systemic change is needed.

“Education departments need to invest money and time in adequate principal training, allowing them to be released from duties so they can manage such essential study.

“Their jobs are already beyond stressful. We are seeing inflated divorce rates and death rates among rural principals, so their health outcomes are critical. Things must change for the better.”

Ms Hardwick-Franco believes that training school principals in an essential set of 3Rs – Relationships, Responsibilities and Resourcing – will provide a bedrock start to improving better outcomes for rural education.

“Australia must ask whether we are content that out of 96 countries, Uzbekistan is the only country where rural students achieve higher than the national average,” she says.

“We should do better, and international trends show that school principals will increasingly be required to engage in personal development and gain formal qualifications in preparation for the role. This is something we should be addressing now.”

The July-September edition of science policy journal AQ: Australian Quarterly is now available. For more details, visit www.aips.net.au/AQ-magazine or Facebook.

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