Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Getting below the Surface of the Principal Recruitment 'Crisis' in New Zealand Primary Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Getting below the Surface of the Principal Recruitment 'Crisis' in New Zealand Primary Schools

Article excerpt

Since 1989 in New Zealand, the work of the primary school principal has been transformed in official policy texts from that of leading professional to chief executive officer. Surveys document the changing nature of the role and the workload and other pressures that have resulted, particularly for principals with teaching responsibilities in smaller schools. There is a generally accepted crisis of preparation, recruitment, development and retention. Below the surface, however, are deeper-seated, structural difficulties: women comprise the majority of teachers, yet are a minority of principals and their career advancement is largely limited to small schools and those in poorer socioeconomic areas. This article reviews the situation and examines the reasons why dominant images of the primary school principalship may be both partial and counterproductive.


The shape of contemporary primary schooling in New Zealand derives from the watershed Tomorrow's schools reforms implemented at system and institutional level on 1 October 1989. Previously, primary school principal recruitment and selection was the responsibility of district education boards (DEB). Applying well-defined rules and criteria of seniority and capability, DEBs appointed all primary school principals, from 'sole-charge' schools (with a roll under 24) to the largest 'intermediate' schools (with a roll of almost 1000). National conditions of service provided recruitment incentives for otherwise hard-to-staff schools. All teachers needed to complete two years 'country service' before they could have access to the top steps on the salary scale. Generous removal entitlements made teacher mobility throughout the country feasible. Subsidised rental housing was attached to any positions that DEBs considered hard-to-fill.

The 1989 reforms abolished education boards and transferred responsibility for principal recruitment and selection to individual schools, with each school community electing its own board of trustees (BoT). The national conditions of service outlined above were abolished. Under the Education Act 1989, all schools were to be governed by a BoT that would be responsible for setting policy in the areas of operational spending, staffing and building maintenance. Boards became the employers of staff in their school and the school principal was designated their 'chief executive' with delegated responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of board policy. BoTs were also to assume administrative responsibilities previously carried out by the district education boards and were required to act in accordance with the 'good employer' responsibilities contained in the State Sector Act 1988.

In large part, the administrative reforms in the school sector were presented as a mirror of new public management practices already instituted in other parts of the public sector from 1984. A significant shift in the school principal's role was instituted, from its previous emphasis on professional leadership to prioritising managerial responsibilities (Wylie, 1997). According to the Minister who introduced the reforms, they constituted 'a plan of education administration. It does not have anything to do with what is actually taught in schools or who is competent to teach it. It is a management model' (Lange, 1999, p. 12).

Central to this conceptual separation between management and teaching/learning, and to the construction of the principal as a chief executive, was the work of the Principals' Implementation Taskforce. Established by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to provide advice to school principals on their new management responsibilities, this taskforce produced a series of booklets in areas such as personnel management, governance and finance. These 'resources' emphasised to trustees, parents and education professionals the contractual and occupational separation of the principal as manager from the body of teachers as employees within the school. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.