In most cases devolution has been presented as shifting responsibility to local units and therefore being more decentralised, democratic, and responsive to local communities. However the crucial decisions about goals and objectives are made by unelected technocrats in government departments with little experience in education, who are far removed from those communities. Accountability is to government rather than to the public or parents. For example, in Australia:
By the end of the 1980s, state education systems were awash with corporate plans, performance indicators. These served to reshape the labour process of teachers, whose room for autonomous action was now far more tightly constrained than it had been for two decades. In addition, teachers, along with parents, academics and non-corporatised groups, were invariably excluded from participation in policy-making groups.
The real goal of school restructuring is not local control and school autonomy, but to enable governments to abdicate responsibility for funding shortfalls. Individual schools are now responsible for turning out highly skilled students despite declining resources. More budgetary control does not mean more resources. Yet failure to meet centrally-determined quality objectives is blamed on poor school management and poor quality teaching rather than a lack of resources and funding.
Principals have to make the hard decisions about whether to cut teaching positions to fund educational programmes or whether to sell school land to finance building maintenance. Principals are responsible for raising some of the school’s non-salary operating costs and are expected to take on the role of enterprising business executives. The casualty has been student learning.
Instead of providing educational leadership to teachers, principals have had to become employers, “entrepreneurs, whose job it is to manage the school as a business and to maximise the school’s ‘market advantage’”, and ‘line managers’, ensuring that education department objectives are carried out and performance targets met. They have had to turn their attention away from educational matters to focus on strategic plans, budgets, personnel issues, and fund-raising. And instead of being able to collaborate with other principals and learn from each other they are now expected to compete with them.
Such pressures have led to high turn over rates in principals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. In 2007, a study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, commissioned following a decline in the numbers of teachers seeking head teachers positions in the UK, suggested that schools could be headed by non-teachers who were experts in finance, human resources and project management.
In the US a Texan study found there is a very low retention rate for principals in high schools: "just over 50% of newlyhired principals stay for three years and less than 30% stay for five years". Principals in schools where students receive higher average test scores tend to stay longer and principals in poorer schools tend to have a shorter tenure.
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