School leaders play a pivotal role in the provision of quality education and in ensuring equity and equal educational opportunities for all children, pupils and students. School leaders can help to create and maintain a positive school climate and a culture of peace, tolerance, equity, inclusiveness, cooperation and hard work in their institutions for the benefit of the whole school community. They can create conditions for effective teaching and learning in their institutions by providing the necessary resources, support and motivation for both teachers and students. However, school leaders can only be able to do this if they are empowered and given full support by the government, education authorities, parents and other key education stakeholders, which is yet to happen.
Education International’s vision of school leadership
As articulated in its 2011 Policy Paper on Education and the 2015 addendum to the policy paper, Education International (EI) believes that collaborative, collegial and co-operative leadership, involving leaders, administrators, teachers, education support personnel and the whole pedagogical community is the most effective form of educational leadership. EI’s concept of school leadership therefore goes beyond the principal, who no doubt, plays a very critical role in leading the education institution, and includes teachers, education support personnel and other members of the school community. Unfortunately, many of our education and school systems remain hierarchical with one ‘heroic’ leader at the top. We need to democratise leadership in our schools and other education institutions and to empower educators to exercise leadership. One way of achieving this is to promote collaborative work through teams, in order to inspire and empower teachers to exercise leadership and contribute to quality decision-making.
School leadership remains on the periphery of global policy debate
Despite its importance, school leadership is yet to be considered a top priority in the global development and education policy agenda. While the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has made some effort to address school leadership issues[i], this is yet to happen in any systematic way with other intergovernmental organisations. UNESCO, the ILO, other UN agencies and global and regional intergovernmental organisations need to put school and educational leadership at the very top of their policy agendas and programmatic work.
Numerous challenges confront school leaders today
School leaders continue to face a myriad of challenges, including shrinking school budgets, inadequate school infrastructure and resources, stringent accountability demands and heavy workloads. School leaders are often expected to “deliver results” without receiving specialised leadership training or adequate support from the government and education authorities.
Furthermore, school leaders are often forced to spend most of their time performing administrative tasks, leaving them with very little time to focus on pedagogical or instructional leadership. This is expressed in more explicit terms by a union official who participated in a survey of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) – EI’s European Region, who opined:
“Our school leaders spend too much time on administrative tasks to the detriment of their role as educational leaders […]. Increasingly, principals are referring to the administrative burdens of running a large physical plant and have to manage large sums of money. … Allow them more time to focus on educational leadership.”[ii]
Financial and other administrative tasks could be performed by qualified book keepers/accountants and others, thus freeing more time for the principal to focus on instructional leadership. Involving educators in the decision-making processes of the school or other education institutions, and allowing them to exercise leadership, would not only alleviate the administrative burden on the principal, but also result in the democratisation of the institution.
EI conference to address leadership issues
The EI school leadership conference that will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 24 and 25 April 2018 is a key opportunity to discuss and address the above and other educational leadership issues.
“What is inclusive qualityschool leadership?”, “What are the necessary preconditions for achieving inclusive quality school leadership?”, “How can equitable recruitment, promotion, retention, training and professional development of school leaders be ensured?”, “How can women be empowered to exercise leadership in both education institutions and unions?”, “What policy measures should governments and other stakeholders (such as UNESCO, ILO, OECD) take to ensure the empowerment of school leaders and inclusive quality school leadership?” are among the key questions that need to be addressed and lead to concrete policy proposals.
More than 100 teacher union representatives, school leaders, as well as academics, experts, policy makers and other key stakeholders from around the world will meet together and discuss educational leadership issues. It is important that the conclusions and recommendations of the conference inform EI, education unions and partners’ global, regional and national advocacy efforts and strategies, in order to develop inclusive quality school leadership, for the benefit of the whole education community.
[i]This has mainly been done through the OECD School Leadership Activity and publications “Improving School Leadership”, the International Summit on the Teaching Profession and the “School Leadership for Learning” report which uses the data of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) from 2013 to analyse different strategies of school leadership and its impact on the school’s learning communities and learning climate.
[ii] ETUCE Survey Report: School Leadership in Europe: issues, challenges and opportunities (2012).