The Pressure Cooker : Australian Education

metal pipes plumbing pressure
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Introduction from forthcoming publication: The Principal’s Scorecard: Friend Foe or Frenemy

At both a macro and micro level, the Australian educational landscape, is a pressure cooker of comparison and competition. At the macro level Australian policy makers compare student performance results with international jurisdictions through testing instruments implemented by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Gorur & Wu, 2014; Baroutsis & Lingard, 2016). Policy makers analyse the ‘high performing’ jurisdictions searching for their magical ingredient (Sellar & Lingard, 2013). As experienced in Australian school systems the ingredient in turn may be adopted and mandated (Harrison, 2008). State and territory governments also create their own regulated recipes for their school systems. In Australian jurisdictions performance results (from National Assessment Plan Literacy and Numeracy – NAPLAN) along with exit results can be publicly compared and ranked whereby schools are judged as worthy or unworthy (Thompson & Tomaz, 2011). At the micro level, to sustain funding by securing enrolments, principals and their school systems, market these results. Within this cooker of comparing, marketing and commodifying young peoples’ performance results, principals need to make decisions, often of an ethical nature.

Making decisions is fraught in these comparative cultures of performativity for any educational leader (Perryman, 2006; 2009). There are challenges for Australian principals when these external demands continue to drive for improved student performance  (Duignan, Burford, d’Arbon, Ikin, & Walsh, 2003; Ehrich, Harris, Klenowski, Smeed, & Spina, 2015). The leadership challenge positions principals in the centre of reforms (Gawlik, 2015; Volante, 2012) which calls for an analysis of leaders’ internal processes (Brezicha et al., 2015; Clifford et al, 2012), notably how they resolve external demands with their internal school commitments (Louis & Robinson, 2012). More so than in any time in Australian educational history a principal’s agency in producing successful student performances is public and understandably is highly accountable (Boies & Fiset, 2018; Robinson, 2011; Sun & Leithwood, 2017).

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