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The role of school principals needs to be much more clearly defined in order to drive improvement in schools, according to a senior official at the OECD.
The kinds of decisions that school leaders should be responsible for are not properly discussed, creating significant tensions between principals and their staff, said Montserrat Gomendio, the organisation’s deputy director of education.
The responsibilities of school leaders varies enormously around the world, she said, but a lack of understanding about what is expected of them is a common problem.
“Should principals be leaders with a vision who distribute responsibilities among other actors? Should they participate in a collective decision-making process and concentrate on the administrative procedures needed to achieve the goals? Or should they have few opportunities to make decisions and focus on their implementation of the decisions made by other bodies?” she said to The Global Search for Education.
“The answer to these questions differs enormously between countries. More worryingly, they are often ill-defined and this creates a tension between what principals think they ought to do and what others expect from them.
“Once the role of the principal is clearly defined, then principals should get the training needed to be able to develop such role successfully and the resources required to fulfill their role.”
Ms Gomendio was speaking after the publication last week of the new OECD report, School Leadership for Learning: Insights from Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) 2013, which draw on studies of 34 countries.
School leaders who lead the best-performing schools find a balance between taking action to improve the quality of teaching and separately working to incorporate stakeholders in school decisions.
“We called principals who were able to achieve this balance ‘integrated leaders’,” she said. “In systems like Shanghai, China and Korea, almost 9 of 10 of their principals were classified as integrated leaders.”
Leadership and teacher quality are the two most important factors affecting the quality of schools, said Ms Gomendio. Both leaders and teachers must respond to the “huge challenges” created by rapid changes in technology, she added.
“The acquisition of knowledge is no longer restricted to an established body of knowledge. It requires learning throughout life, integrating many sources of information and becoming a critical thinker,” she said.
“New sets of skills such as team work, innovation and creativity are becoming increasingly important.
“The leaders of this major transformation can only be the principals and the teachers themselves, but principals need to be able to show the way in this uncertain world. Thus, their responsibility is greater than ever.”
The original version of this interview first appeared in The Global Search for Education series on CMRubinWorld. Follow on Twitter @CMRubinWorld