Published in the ‘Sun’ newspaper included in the NT News on April 26 2016
SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY IS FRONT AND CENTRE
From time to time there is strong media inference that school educators are on Easy Street. The need for more accountability is advocated for principals and teachers. There is an inference that Education Departments do little in holding principals and teachers to account.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Individual principals go through regular performance management exercises. Their schools are also appraised, usually once every two years. Senior staff and teachers set annual developmental targets.
Assessment criteria for performance and school effectiveness are regularly updated to accommodate curriculum changes.
An upside of performance measurement is that peers are involved in the process. Principal performance takes account of staff and community perception. Principals realise that perceptions of their leadership are important to the department, school and parents.
School assessments involve a fellow principal and senior departmental officer. All staff, some students and members of the community are interviewed. An advantage of this model is that principals and teachers are able to share an understanding of leading and teaching.
Preoccupation with assessment can mean that personal aspects of performance are always front and centre of thinking. This can lead to hesitancy in trying new ideas and expressing professional opinion. It may result in educators accepting what is handed down from above without discussion. Concerns about possible shortcomings or weaknesses of changes that have been imposed are let slide.
One of the pressures on school principals is that their jobs are temporary. Employment contracts are offered for no more than four years. If a contract is not renewed, they do not have a position to wh ich they can return in the public service. School leaders accepting contracts have to relinquish their permanency within the NT public service, becoming temporary employees.
Principals and teachers are assessed against standards developed by the Australian Institute for Teachers and School Leaders (AITSL). Beginning teachers must meet graduate standards. As teachers gain experience, standards expected become more detailed. Annual assessments and periodic reviews organised at a school level, are set against these expectations. Teaching quality and contribution to the corporate life of the school are taken into account. AITSL has a tool enabling teachers to collect evidence supporting their professional status. This can be accessed on a daily basis.
Any belief that school staff are free agents when dealing with educational matters is fallacious. School leaders and staff members are held to constant and rigorous account for personal performance and the effectiveness of their schools. Far from being overlooked, accountability is the number one issue for all educators.