Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

'Critical' principal shortage spawns new course in school leadership

A "critical" need for trained principals has spurred a programme to give school leaders key skills for the job.

A predicted shortage of principals, as sitting heads begin to retire in the next five years, coupled with the ongoing teacher shortage has fuelled the programme, which schools say is vital to ensure competent school leaders in the future.

The expected shortage of principals has been described as "an emergency" by Macleans College principal Byron Bentley.

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A number of Macleans senior staff members are enrolled on the Masters in Secondary School Leadership, which is run through Victoria University.

"It's very necessary to have because the average age of secondary school [principals] now is in the high 50s, so there's a lot of retirements occurring and imminent," he said.

Macleans College teachers Andrew Mackenzie (left) and Phil Goodyer are both taking part in a programme to train new principals. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Macleans College teachers Andrew Mackenzie (left) and Phil Goodyer are both taking part in a programme to train new principals. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"There's going to be a dearth of senior leadership. It's a bit of an emergency really, it's like the teachers' shortage."

He added: "If the industry isn't prepared, it will pay the price."

The course was developed by Victoria University's education and business schools after being approached by Bentley, former Auckland Grammar School principal John Morris, and former Onehunga High School principal Chris Saunders about three years ago.

It aims to provide hands-on training for aspiring principals - combining theory with practical experience shadowing principals in schools around the country.

The modern secondary school environment was highly complex, Bentley said, and nothing previously had provided enough practical training to prepare new principals for what their role entails - including financial acumen, employment relations, management, and being "a teaching and learning leader".

Byron Bentley, the Principal of Macleans College, says there's a "critical" need for trained principals. Photo / Supplied
Byron Bentley, the Principal of Macleans College, says there's a "critical" need for trained principals. Photo / Supplied

It was an issue that had been "too long ignored", he said, and now "the need for trained leaders is just critical".

Between 50 and 70 principals are signed up to helping out, and trainees come into their schools to see how life as a principal really works.

It was "the beauty of this course", Bentley said, and the feedback had been positive.

The aspiring principals learn a lot from seeing how other schools work and deal with issues, and they also bring new ideas into the schools they're temporarily placed in, he said.

Four of Macleans College's teachers are taking the course - house leader and English teacher Thomas Murdoch, deputy principal and geography teacher Andrew Mackenzie, maths teacher Phil Goodyer, and house leader Murray Saunders - and all spoke enthusiastically about the experience it had given them.

It provided a solid framework and ensured a new principal was not going in "blind", Saunders said.

"Already I have found myself experimenting with some of the leadership practices and techniques that I have witnessed."

Dr Brenda Service, post-graduate programme director at the Faculty of Education, Victoria University, said the course had proved successful, with four out of seven graduates already securing principal jobs, while two others have won principalships before finishing the course.

Fears over a lack of suitably qualified people applying for principal roles was being seen elsewhere, she said.

"In fact it's a worldwide issue, and there's a lot of academic writing on allowing it [principal training] to be ad-hoc, expecting people to have learned as they've gone through their former roles," she said.

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She praised the "generous" principals around the country who help by allowing the trainees to come into their school.

"They say it's a way of paying back, also they want to see that they've got effective people to succeed them."

Karl Le Quesne, acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement at the Ministry of Education, said work had been done to improve training and support for new and current principals.

"After reviewing our Professional Learning Development (PLDF) for school leaders, we have designed and rolled out a support package based on what's worked well and what needs to work better," he said.

"This will provide flexible, regionally-based support tailored to the needs of beginning principals in both English medium and Maori medium contexts.

"We are also working with the Education Council to ensure a coherent programme of support is available for school leaders through its newly-established Centre for Leadership Excellence."

The centre will bring together professional expertise to grow future leaders, but while it is being established a two-year support package has been set up in the interim.

The ministry has also assigned leadership advisers to provide beginning principals with support and guidance, as well as specialists to work with up to 12 Communities of Learning from April this year, Le Quesne said.

The Education Council said it was working to develop a leadership strategy to support and grow leaders across the profession, from early childhood to secondary. A number of events will be planned for this year, with a draft proposal expected to be published in June.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 2559 - principals practising in New Zealand
• 10-15 per cent - the percentage of principals who leave their job annually
• 60 - the common retirement age of principals

- NZ Herald

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