Deputy principals have their say...

Key challenges examined

During the last couple of years there has been much research on the work and challenges of principal leadership. But what about the rest of our school leadership teams? What do deputy principals and campus heads feel about their roles and their professional learning needs? Cathy Hickey looks at the survey results from a group of 40 deputy principal/head of campus members of the IEU Victoria Tasmania.

The demographics

Sixty one percent of our group were primary school deputies, 31% secondary, and 8% P-12. Sixty seven percent were women, and 88% were from Catholic schools in Victoria. Three deputies worked in Tasmanian Catholic primary schools and two in large Victorian P-12 independent schools.

The role and workload

Workload is always an issue, and there was quite a discrepancy in the hours per week that simular size schools officially allocated to deputies to undertake their duties. The time allocation in small primary schools ranged from 1-3 hours per week (one respondent) through 1-1.5 days (five respondents), 2-2.5 days (two respondents), and 3-4 days (two respondents). In medium sized primary schools we saw 2-2.5 days (five respondents), 3-4 days (three respondents), and five days (four respondents). Both of the deputies in the large primary schools (550 to 699 enrolment) had five days per week.

In secondary schools there was again variation of allocated release time, with those in medium size schools (that is, 550 to 1100 enrolment) having either 3 to 4 days (four respondents), or five days (two respondents). In the large secondaries (more than 1101 enrolment) six deputies had 3 to 4 days, and one had five days. Even the deputies in the two large schools of over 1500 students differed – one allocated 3 to 4 days and the other five days a week.

When asked what they found most stressful about the role, “workload” (34% of respondents) and “dealing with others” (29%) stood out as the most significant issues for both primary and secondary deputies in similar proportion.

A significant 31% of the group indicated that they did not have enough time allocated to undertake their duties. Reasons related to the extensive multifaceted nature of the role and increasing demands, particularly with administrative duties on top of dealing with student issues.

Lack of clarity in the role was experienced by 18% of the respondents, with three-quarters being in secondary schools. Again the extensive and multifaceted nature of expectations – along with ever expanding scope and amount of duties included – were given as reasons.

Aspiration and PD needs

Just under half of the total group indicated they were aspirant principals, with more male and secondary deputies here (54% of the male deputies and 43% of female deputies, 50% of the secondary deputies and 42% of the primary deputies). When asked if they had applied for principal positions, only 37% replied yes (50% of secondary deputies and 30% of primary, 27% of the female deputies, and 54% of the male deputies). Both aspiration and application were spread across the range of years of experience.

The reasons given for lack of desire to become a principal were largely because of the large workload and complex role and responsibilities principals experience, as well as the problem of lack of support.

The top three areas of professional development focus were managing difficult conversations, effective leadership skills, and supporting staff; with curriculum knowledge and legal issues following closely. Eighty six percent of the deputies had attended specific leadership focused PD.

Deputies/heads of campus are a vital link in the education leadership chain and the IEU believes that the issues highlighted by their members need to be tackled at both school and system level. This will ensure that they are well supported in their roles and the well documented concerns about taking on a principalship are addressed.

Cathy Hickey is an Assistant Secretary of the Independent Education Union Victoria Tasmania.