Principals need more authority and less ‘administrivia’
I remember a time when school principals were charged with the responsibility of administrating education and the community trusted their educational leadership. The ministry provided educational resources and held principals accountable for the quality of outcomes. There was a healthy competition among schools which motivated the efforts of teachers and students. I know because I was a principal.
Over the past forty to fifty years, I have witnessed the centralising of authority within the ministry of education and a decline in the authority of the school principal. This has happened while plans were implemented to restructure the education system with a view to its improvement. It is my opinion that the system has only suffered ongoing disruption, leaving many parents dissatisfied with the educational progress of their children.
So what’s new in education? An Education Authority is being proposed, whose authority will be shared with the minister of education. Under these circumstances, who will have the ultimate authority when tensions arise -- the minister or the education authority and to whom will school principals be accountable? This will likely become another gap in what should be a seamless process and another place for stakeholders to ascribe blame for failures in the system.
In The Royal Gazette of November 15, I noted that the Minister of Education, in a press conference, was careful to point out, and rightly so, that: “An Authority would never be fully independent from the government as it would receive public funds but Government involvement would be minimal.” I can only assume that an Education Authority would be set up by and operate under the minister who would have ultimate authority. However, what may appear to be an administrative arm of the minister, may end up being a competing authority whose boundaries will be difficult to define and maintain. The Tourism Authority is an example of the kind of tensions which can arise between such an Authority and the minister when it comes to the implementation of policy.
In my view we only need competent principals, who can provide educational leadership, ensure effective teaching, and are accountable to government administration, whatever form that might take. We do not need another configuration of Government oversight and especially one that has an additional entity with questionable authority. What would be the function of an Education Authority? Would it replace existing education officers? In order to justify its existence it may only increase the amount of administrivia which already encumbers the work of principals and teachers.
We have already experimented with various configurations of government administration of education but the one constant element is the school principal. The Government would save much needed money and I believe that the education system would be better served, if resources were concentrated, not in additional authority, but where education actually takes place -- in the school -- where principals have the authority to run schools, where teachers have the freedom to teach students and where parents accept their responsibility to participate in the education process.
DEAN McL FURBERT
Mr Furbert is a former Chief Education Officer and long-time school principal