A trip to the principal’s office may strike fear into students’ hearts. And parents often see principals as obstacles to be overcome. But according to a recent international report, school principals are an underappreciated — and under-paid — component of the education system. The first step to improving schools in Canada may be to pay them more.
Last month the OECD released a 500-page report called “Improving School Leadership,” which took a close look at what principals do. Around the world, schools are being pushed to boost educational performance and respond to local needs, which has increased the expectations of principals, the OECD observes. Managerial skills are now just as important as pedagogy in a principal’s office.
“It is a job that’s becoming more complex all the time,” agrees Terry Young, who does everything from answering the phone to dealing with substance abuse problems as the principal of Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Young, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Principals, is concerned that the expanding workload is making recruitment more difficult. “It is getting tougher to find qualified people,” he frets.
Among the OECD’s recommendations are that school boards consider credentials other than teaching certificates when hiring principals (possibly even considering non-teachers for the job), and that salaries be raised substantially. Canada appears to lag significantly in this regard.
International data shows principals in England are the best compensated — their maximum salaries are double that of teachers. Similar figures are not available for Canada, but we would likely rank near the bottom of the OECD’s list. In Ontario, for instance, elementary school principals typically earn around $100,000, while the average elementary teacher makes almost $80,000 in salary and benefits. “In some schools, the principals are making less than experienced teachers,” notes Young. “But, as principals, we’re always on call. And remember, we often have to work through our summer.”