The loneliness of the long distance principal: The tension between satisfying student needs and government requirements

Year: 2008

Author: Pietsch, Bruce, Williamson, John

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports on a current research project that examines the experiences and issues that are of concern to principals of isolated central schools in one Australian state. New South Wales has developed its own model of school-based management which devolved some responsibilities from the state office to schools and advocated greater participation at the school level by staff and local communities. This followed a global trend to decentralisation of public school systems (Bottani, 2000; McGinn & Welsh, 1999; Pascoe & Pascoe, 1998; Sahid, 2004; Sayed, 2002; Wylie, 1995).

The policy of decentralising state school systems has been advanced as one means to remedy the perceived shortcomings in public schools. In Australia 'decentralisation' has often meant the delegation of authority and responsibilities from a central state office of the relevant Department of Education to smaller regional or district offices and then to the schools themselves. The term has also been used in NSW and other jurisdictions to describe a process of delegating decision-making within a school from the principal to the staff and stakeholders in a school community.

The major historical influences for the current decision-making structures in New South Wales schools have followed major decentralisation reforms in New Zealand (Picot, 1988) and Victoria (Directorate of School Education Victoria, 1993).The earlier proponents of decentralisation were concerned about limiting the expenditure in government departments which in the 1970s had been experiencing historically unprecedented growth. Decentralisation was advocated (i) to reduce the expense and restrictions of bureaucratic controls (ii) to improve the economic efficiency of state education departments (B. W. Scott, 1989, Aims item 4) and (iii) to improve responsiveness of public schools (B. W. Scott, 1989, Aims item 2). The rationales about educational advantages, in some cases, appear to have been written after the initial reforms (B. Caldwell & D. Hayward, 1998).