Principals’ Workload

Head Teacher

Head Teacher (Photo credit: Mot)


Being principal of a secondary school is generally a rewarding and fulfilling task, but it is not an easy way to earn a living.  It is fraught with overwhelming challenges, long hours of work and limited vacation time.  One must be well prepared for this responsibility or face the distinct possibility of failure.

The job description of a principal is vast.  The duties touch every area of school activity and each of these areas requires time, advanced levels of leadership and management, administrative skills and human relations skills.  Successful principals must constantly demonstrate supreme technical, conceptual, and human skills.  The professional training they undergo does not fully prepare them for their everyday roles.  They must also learn from experience and develop the ability to think quickly and handle several challenges at the same time.

Principals must have vision and goals and create the structures and processes necessary for the realization of those goals.  The main role of the principal has to be that of instructional leader.  The improvement of teaching and learning and the fostering of the right academic environment, ethos and culture are daily imperatives.  Academic achievement, safety, and success in extra-curricular competitions among schools, in that order, determine how the public views and ranks schools.

Principals will confirm that their capacity to focus on instructional leadership is limited by the intrusion of their other role as school managers.  There are numerous non-instructional, managerial demands to be dealt with every day, hence principals end up having less time to devote to developmental activities such as the improvement of teaching, learning and school effectiveness.

The administrative burden on principals needs to be reduced.  Most of them report that they spend the bulk of their days dealing with “administrivia,” emergencies, discipline, meetings of all sorts, correspondence, writing reports and supervision.  This is not even an exhaustive list.  Growing lists of requirements from the Ministry of Education compound these problems.

Principals find it impossible to complete their to-do lists or clear their desks every day because of the time taken up by the managerial duties.  They have no choice but to work late on evenings in an effort to reduce the backlog.

Mere delegation of some non-core tasks to senior staff members will not solve the principals’ dilemma.  They would still be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks and would still have too little time left for developmental activities.  This is a frustrating but very common experience.

The appointment of two deputy principals in each secondary school, especially those with 800+ students, would solve many of these problems by releasing quality time for each principal.  Principals would then be free to focus on the improvement of teaching, learning and school effectiveness.  Students’ attainment levels would certainly rise.

One of these deputy principals would be responsible for matters of discipline and the other would deal with the curriculum.  They would both assist with administration and work closely with the principal.

I can already hear objections to this proposal on the basis of cost.  My view, however, is that it is more costly, in terms of lack of productivity, efficiency and effectiveness not to appoint two deputy principals in our large schools.

Trevor Pilgrim.


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