Real Issues - School principals, ANZAC, Family

Published: Fri 1 May 2009 09:21 AM
Real Issues No. 340 - School principals, ANZAC, Family
Maxim Institute - Real Issues - No. 340
Giving principals the freedom to lead The true spirit of ANZACs 'Death of the traditional family'?
IN THE NEWS Maxim Institute Part-time Accountant position Migration and family life Getting to the bottom of redistribution
New research from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) has found that 58 percent of principals do not think that they have 'enough time for the educational leadership part of (their) job.' Many of our principals cannot put enough time and energy into vital tasks like planning and setting the vision for education in our schools. Any organisation, whether a school, business, or charity, cannot run well unless its leader can set a clear vision for what it is supposed to do and then guide its members to realise that vision. The strength and resilience of our school system depends a lot on our principals having the time to both set a vision for excellent education and to motivate pupils and teachers to higher levels of achievement.
While the NZCER research found that the majority of principals were satisfied with their job, a worrying finding was that most felt they were spending too much time managing their school. 'Management' in this sense is different to school leadership--it refers to the tasks which are not related to education but that help a school run, such as administrative tasks, budgeting and running meetings. With their time taken in administrative tasks, principals have 'less time to focus on teaching and learning,' which is what matters the most to pupils' achievement outcomes. Their time is bled by a deluge of 'Ministry of Education initiatives, paperwork and other system demands.' A principal should not be reduced to a paper-pusher. Instead, principals need freedom from day-to-day managerial tasks to have time to provide educational leadership for a school. This quality of leadership can make the difference between a mediocre and an excellent school.
One possible way to relieve the pressure on principals is to develop a specific career track for teachers who aspire to lead a school by becoming senior teachers, heads of departments or deputy principals. A career track like this might involve establishing professional standards for teachers in management and giving greater rewards to teachers who opt for this management path. This strategy might also help people to see education as a valued and respected field, which could assist in retaining and recruiting professionals who can take on aspects of schools' management. Most importantly, creating a career track for school managers would help to spread the management load around. It would allow our principals the time to concentrate on what matters--developing a school culture and styles of teaching and learning which encourage high achievement.
Read the New Zealand Council for Educational Research's study of principals' attitudes, 'School Resources, Culture and Connections'
Last weekend New Zealanders gathered in their thousands to commemorate ANZAC Day at dawn services across the country. The New Zealand Herald reported 'record' crowds, and 85-year-old veteran Eric Brady was quoted as saying 'there are more and more (young people) coming every year.' It seems ANZAC Day has taken on a significant role for today's young people. Though they have never lived through a world war, they seem to feel a somewhat surprising connection with ANZAC Day. In addition to being a time of memorial for people who fought in long-ago wars, the ANZAC experience holds an enduring appeal to today's society.
ANZAC Day services are a tribute to men and women who have served and died in conflicts around the world since World War I. The dawn parade and other ceremonies are times of national solidarity. The ceremonies themselves are run according to time-honoured traditions not commonly seen in contemporary life, with order, procession, silence and prayer. More than the formalities, the stories told of soldiers who went to war for their country are full of themes of sacrifice, laying down their own will and desires and responding to a sense of duty--a responsibility to their society that took the place of personal dreams. These stories have been told for 70 years, since the dawn parades began, and yet it is in recent years that they have begun to experience a renaissance. The ceremonies remain the same; society has changed. Perhaps the need for those stories and traditions is now greater.
We are living in an age where personal expression and achievement are more widely sought-after than duty to country or society. Sacrifice for the nation or for future generations is not a value widely taught in a consumer culture where advertisers aim to transform our wants into needs and cell-phone companies tell us to 'make the most of now.' Surely, our ANZAC heroes had a desire to make the most of their 'now,' but for them that meant taking up arms and serving a higher cause than their own desires. Regardless of what view we have of the wars of the twentieth century, the willingness of these prior generations to struggle for the sake of others is something that continues to resonate with people today as we head in droves to dawn vigils. Perhaps this is why ANZAC Day is still appealing to generations increasingly separated from the actual lives of the fallen. Perhaps a generation of people who are told they only have a duty to be true to themselves have seen something hollow in the individualism they are surrounded by, and are longing for a bigger purpose and a stronger form of community.
British statistics released recently have added fuel to calls for a continuing debate on family breakdown. The statistics, contained in the latest 'Social Trends' report from the Office for National Statistics, bring home to us the importance of putting family where it belongs--at the heart of social policy and public debate.
The report compiles a range of data to profile what UK society looks like and how it has been changing. The statistics trace a number of worrying trends. Trends of note include the 'lowest number' of marriages 'recorded since 1895,' while 'cohabiting couples, lone parent families, and people living alone have all increased.' Between 1971 and 2008, 'the proportion of lone parent families increased almost threefold, to 11 percent,' and cohabitation has similarly spiked. Further, 'Overall, 56 per cent of conceptions in 2006 were outside marriage compared with almost one-half (49 per cent) in 1996.'
The statistics chart a huge change in the nature of British family life, even in the last thirty years, and have sparked debate across the UK, with a commentator claiming 'the traditional nuclear family...has become a museum piece,' and a headline in the Daily Telegraph declaring the 'death of the traditional family.' Although such a view is easy to caricature, the huge changes in family life across the whole Western world deserve an airing. Declining marriage rates, in favour of cohabitation, are concerning because they reflect a lack of stability in modern-day relationships. According to the Centre for Social Justice's report 'Breakthrough Britain: Family Breakdown,' by the time a child is five, 'less than 1 in 12 married parents have split up compared to almost 1 in 2 cohabiting parents.' This instability has consequences for the children affected by these fractured relationships and for society generally. With more people cohabiting in Britain, fewer marrying, and family breakdown continuing to cripple, it is far past time that family take its rightful place at the heart of public debate and social policy.
We are rightly concerned about our environmental sustainability, about the legacy we are leaving to our children. We are likewise rightly concerned about economic conditions, worried that we will leave too much public debt for our children to pay off, or a world in which economic security is elusive. But we ought also to consider the social ecology--our relational environment, our social fabric. What relational legacy are we leaving to our children? In a world seemingly averse to commitment, yet hungering for stability, what are we doing to model, protect and foster a culture which values marriage, prioritises the best interests of children, and functions as a cohesive, decent and sustainable whole? It is that challenge the whole Western world is confronting and we cannot afford to ignore it.
Read 'Social Trends 2009'
The Families Commission has released a new report into the experience of new migrant families in 'cultural transition.' It focuses particularly on tensions within these families between parents and children, and how these tensions are managed. The report traces a number of areas of 'harmony' and 'tension' between migrant parents and their adolescent children, and emphasises the importance of both building on family strengths and opening communication between parents, children and community.
Read 'Settling In: parent-adolescent family dynamics in the acculturation process'
A new study suggests that New Zealanders do not automatically favour government redistribution--collecting and spending taxpayers' money--as the solution to pressing social problems. The study, carried out by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany, looked at what factors like income, gender and age determine people's attitudes to redistribution. It also compared whether individual people in different countries thought wealth redistribution would be the best way to help people to escape poverty and ease material hardship, compared to other possible responses like encouraging people to take more responsibility for their own welfare. According to the study, redistribution is favoured most in countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Northern Europe. Countries that proved to be least favourable towards redistribution included the United States, Australia, New Zealand and a number of Asian countries. The data gives some indication that despite increasing amounts of government social spending in recent years, many of us still value personal responsibility more than a government cheque as a solution to our problems.
Read 'Preferences for Redistribution'
' these troubling times we can draw inspiration from those who have gone before, and from the example that they set. The New Zealanders who fought and died here, and those who have served in conflicts since then, did so to protect our democratic values and our way of life. They hoped for a better world. Because of their service, few of us will ever be called upon to endure what they went through. That legacy is a mighty gift that we should always cherish.'
His Excellency the Governor-General, Anyand Satyanand, ANZAC Cove Dawn Service 2009.
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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world.

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