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Colección:
La Educación
Número: (118) II
Año: 1994

Organizational Forces Behind the Lack of Candidates for Principal

As noted previously, the successful practice of school-based management depends on three conditions: (1) the practice of democratic governance at the local school level, (2) the election of the school leadership, and (3) the preparation and introduction of a school development plan. The key to making SBM work revolves around the election of a school principal. As the State School Council points out, when the Ministry’s Administration has to appoint a principal he or she will serve for only a one-year term. Hence, that individual cannot identify well with a school program he or she did not develop. In addition, “it is impossible to conduct any meaningful planning in conjunction with the educational program, which is essential to improve the quality of instruction.”31

As noted previously, the successful practice of school-based management depends on three conditions: (1) the practice of democratic governance at the local school level, (2) the election of the school leadership, and (3) the preparation and introduction of a school development plan. The key to making SBM work revolves around the election of a school principal. As the State School Council points out, when the Ministry’s Administration has to appoint a principal he or she will serve for only a one-year term. Hence, that individual cannot identify well with a school program he or she did not develop. In addition, “it is impossible to conduct any meaningful planning in conjunction with the educational program, which is essential to improve the quality of instruction.”31

Teachers, school principals, and senior administrators who were interviewed in the seven Autonomous Communities visited, identified four main reasons why teachers were often reluctant to be candidates for school principal. First and foremost is the lack of incentives.32 For all the headaches that the job entails, most school principals receive only a modest stipend. Additionally, they must teach approximately half of the same number of classes as before.

Interestingly enough, the teacher corps itself is principally responsible for the lack of higher monetary rewards for principals. There is a generalized belief among them that a school administrator is nothing but another teacher and should be paid as such, even when performing other duties. The ideal of retaining equality within their ranks is important to the teachers. In other words, temporary duty in another capacity is no cause for a salary increase.

Second, the fact that a teacher who becomes a school principal is suddenly a supervising authority figure over his or her own friends and colleagues is also a serious problem. In order to introduce a school development plan involving educational change, strong leadership must be exhibited by the principal. This frequently entails supervising, directing and even sanctioning friends and colleagues. Problems of accepting the challenges of leadership, and the potential organizational conflict and personal stress that go with them, are complicated by the fact that the school’s principal will, in a relatively short time, be a full-time teacher once again in the same school.

Third, the ambiguity surrounding the mandate of the new principals poses problems for individuals considering becoming candidates. If SBM is to work effectively, the voters must focus on selecting leaders who will strive to introduce developmental change that will improve the quality of education. Almost all of the individuals interviewed made the point that the desire to produce qualitative improvements was only one reason, and not necessarily the most important, behind specific voting decisions. Other reasons given behind particular voting patterns were that the candidate for director happened to be: a personal friend; someone who wanted to keep things the way they were; an individual who wanted to back the proposals of a specific group (e.g., irate parents, conservative teachers, cultural minority); or a teacher who was primarily interested in challenging MEC policies. Because the mandates of school principals are often ambiguous, attempts to move the school program in a specific direction can, and frequently do, generate unwanted tension or conflict between teachers and/or parents who support other goals.

A fourth cause mentioned frequently by school principals is the tension of being caught between the conflicting demands of higher authorities (e.g., provincial, Autonomous Community, Ministry) on the one hand, and the teachers or School Council members on the other. For example, there are cases on record where the Council has instructed a principal to condone a purchase or activity unauthorized by the Ministry of Education and Science. Another type of conflict can happen, for example, when higher administrative authorities instruct a school principal to send them the names of teachers who are out on strike and the School Council instructs the director not to send the names.

When queried as to why a creative and industrious teacher in one school could not be elected as principal by another school, thus avoiding the problems associated with friendship bonds, the negative responses almost always were a reflection on previous experiences. During the years of the Franco regime, appointing school principals to specific schools was commonly used as a tool of control. For example, when the regime felt threatened by a school’s statements or public displays, a new principal was sent in to stop the practice. Memories of abuses of power by “outside” school directors are long lasting.

A key component in the theory of school-based management is the ability of the School Council to recommend to higher administrative authorities that a principal be discharged if his or her performance is judged to be unsatisfactory. No record of a single instance of such a recommendation could be found, nor could anyone interviewed recall such an occurrence. Thus, one could conclude that, in practice, the elected school principal does not face the accountability pressures of being removed from the position if his or her performance is lacking.