Schools Pathways to principalship

The pathway to principalship has long been of interest to AEU members, both for those who want to lead and those who work under these educational leaders. It is a complex job that requires both educational and technical leadership skills. The principal is responsible for setting both the symbolic and actual tone of the school, responding to accountability set by the department but also for obligations to the staff.

It is a challenging role, but it is also a rewarding one. However, prospective principals will weigh up that intrinsic value against the workload they see principals currently undertaking. Some of the conditions won in the VGSA 2022 were in response to this workload pressure.

The current shortage of teachers is also reflected in the principal class. While that may be acute in 2023, it was also a topic for discussions between the union and the department as far back as 2019, when the department, through Bastow, began work on the Victorian Aspiring Principal Assessment (VAPA).

The AEU’s view is that the principal class should also reflect the composition of the teaching workforce.

The VAPA is intended to provide support to aspiring principals, and to give them a clear indication of their readiness to take up a principal position. On the face of it, this is a welcome support (as are the other emerging leaders and leadership development programs available to government school employees, such as Unlocking Potential – UP). Indeed, since much of the challenge of a principal’s role is in the management of staff and the interaction with the school community, the 360-degree assessment in Social and Emotional Competencies supports aspiring principals to know what further skills or knowledge they will need to succeed in this essential part of the role.

Yet, the AEU raised concerns back in 2019 about the possible ramifications of using the VAPA as a mandatory requirement, including that adding this condition could possibly dissuade potential principals, and disadvantage potential leaders from small schools without access to a variety of leadership opportunities.

The AEU’s view is that the principal class should also reflect the composition of the teaching workforce. The Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership has confirmed that the entrance and applications to the VAPA program sits at approximately 50/50 for male/female. Yet, currently women remain under-represented in the principal class – as they did in 2019. Whether those proportions have moved at all remains unclear.

Since VAPA was introduced, 819 Statements of Readiness (successful completion of the VAPA) have been issued, and 155 VAPA-accredited principals have taken up new roles. Yet, these numbers only have meaning within the context of other statistics, including the current number of substantive and acting principals. And further breakdown of those statistics is needed to identify whether specific regions or areas are facing greater challenges in filling principal roles. 

To this end, the AEU has formally requested that information from the department. We look forward to reporting to members the department’s response in the coming months.

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