Rural Principals Feel Left Out and Over-Worked
Founder and director of the Institute for Educational Administration and Leadership-Jamaica (IEAL-J) and Reader in Education at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, Professor Paul Miller, has, in a recently published research paper, shed light on the plight faced by principals who lead schools in rural Jamaica.
In an interview with The Gleaner, Professor Miller pointed out that principals in rural areas face various issues relating to workload, professional development and contribution to policy discussions.
"In the rural and remote schools, principals are Jack of all trades, and this is particularly acute where the staff complement is low. In schools with a higher staff complement there are more opportunities for distributive leadership," he said.
Miller went on to discuss challenges that rural principals face in terms of access to continuing professional development (CPD).
"Because of how bugged-down heads are with their tasks, there are concerns around access and opportunities for them to become involved in CDP," he added.
Miller pointed out that rural-area principals are not able to maximise on CPD as a result of the prohibitive cost of travel and also a genuine fear that things will go awry if they are not physically present at school.
"Another issue regards contribution to national dialogue. There was an overwhelming sense of frustration among rural-area principals that policy is being decided by those in the centre, meaning the Ministry of Education, and those closest to the centre, meaning principals from bigger schools - the Campions and the Ardennes, and so on," he said.
According to Miller, rural principals have complained that their views are not being taken into account because of the fact that they operate so far away from the centre.
In his response to questions regarding the quality of education delivered by rural and remote schools, Miller argued that a number of factors impact quality.
"If you talk about the student experience, then the student experience can be affected by the quality of staff ..., and rural schools sometimes tend to get people who were not successful in getting the schools in the urban areas, so its a kind of a last resort for them. So the turnover of staff tends to be a little bit higher because people want better opportunities," he explained.
Jack of all trade
Discussing the policy implications of his research on leadership in rural schools, he said, "... heads feel incredibly overworked, Jack of all trades, so we have to see how we can reduce the work and role intensification of rural principals. Heads complain that they are counsellors, cleaners, cooks, janitors, teachers, judges, jurors ... you name it," he said.
Another policy implication Miller pointed to is a need to bring the CPD offered by the National College of Educational Leadership to the rural schools rather than demand that they come into urban areas for the programmes offered by the college.
Miller also called for the engagement of rural principals in policy discussions.
"If I had any recommendation for the ministry, it would be that they have more engagement with rural principals because they feel shut out. The argument coming from them is that this is our education system, too, and we have something to say," he said.