Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Ontario's Principal Scarcity: Yesterday's Abdicated Policy Responsibility-Today's Unrecognised Challenge

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Ontario's Principal Scarcity: Yesterday's Abdicated Policy Responsibility-Today's Unrecognised Challenge

Article excerpt

This article highlights the principal recruitment problem in Ontario. It suggests that the problem is closely associated with the retirement plans of principals which is resulting in a significant loss of human capital; poorly planned implementation of policy changes which presents problems at the school level and discourages potential leaders from pursuing the principalship; and a lengthy and burdensome certification process. The article concludes that leadership succession planning and development in Ontario represents a major policy challenge to government and school boards alike.


The school principal is the linchpin for successful school performance. Yet, in Canada's most populous province, Ontario, interest in the position is waning at the very time when incumbent principals and vice-principals are retiring at unprecedented rates.

This article reports on the retirement plans of Ontario principals and vice-principals and discusses aspects of their role that they find most dissatisfying. It also reports on the reasons that a group of identified potential leaders gave for not pursuing a career in school administration. The paper examines weaknesses in the processes used to develop recent educational policies and poses a series of policy challenges facing policy makers concerned with school administrator recruitment and retention.

The Canadian literature, both anecdotal and empirical, notes that the rates of retirement for principals and vice-principals will be very high during this decade (Echols, Grimmett, & Kitchenham, 1999; Eckstrom, 1997; Evans, 2000; McColl, 1999; McKinnon, 1999; Steffenhagen, 2000; Williams, 2001b). Although there was evidence from the province's College of Teachers that there would be high levels of retirement from teachers' positions, prior to 2001 there was no provincial database that referred to the retirement plans of principals and vice-principals. The only provincial data were aggregated, demographic data that described the total group of people who held provincial certification to be a principal. (The province of Ontario is one of a minority of Canadian provinces that requires principals to hold certification in a process controlled by the Ontario College of Teachers as delegated by the government.) This group included both current incumbents and others who held the certificate but had decided not to pursue administrative positions or were hoping to gain such a position. It did not distinguish between principals and vice-principals and was not broken down by individual school board. In short, it was at such a 'macro' level that analyses masked important insights by role, age, gender, and whether they were incumbents. This information was also not available in many school boards.

There is growing evidence in Ontario that there are declining numbers of applicants for advertised principal vacancies. Superintendents report that the number of applicants for each principal/vice-principal vacancy is lower than in previous years. Presently the issue would appear to be one of the quality and depth of the applicant pool as opposed to an actual deficiency in the number of available candidates (interview with Executive Director, Ontario Principals Council).

The reasons why the principalship in some Canadian provinces is deemed to be a less than attractive position have been the subject of some research (Echols et al., 2000, Evans, 2000; Federation of Women Teachers Association, 1992; Williams, 2001a). Factors include: salary, workload, increased demands for accountability with declining authority to act, teacher union contract management, travel time and poor government--professional educator relations.

Despite these 'signposts', the approaching departure of huge numbers of the very leaders on whom many new educational reforms depend is not on the policy agendas of provincial legislators or most school board trustees. …

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