Preparing budgets, reviewing tenders for construction projects, and coping with inspection officials are among the growing number of duties confronting head teachers as the government launches academic reforms and new initiatives to boost the quality of education.
While university courses teach pedagogy and leadership theories, the skills needed to operate a school smoothly are often learned on the job by new principals
Now, a new professional institute aims to equip prospective head teachers with such skills by providing systematic training.
Established in November by 10 current and former head teachers, the Hong Kong Principals’ Institute runs training workshops and a mentorship programme. Former Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong and Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman have been among featured speakers at workshops.
Convener Anissa Chan Wong Lai-kuen, principal of St Paul’s Co-educational College, says the aim is to nurture future school leaders.
“Our statistics show that eight to 10 per cent of principals from the primary, secondary and kindergarten sector retired every year over the past seven years. We need a crop of new leaders to fill their posts,” she says.
Tsung Tsin College’s former principal, Robin Cheung Man-biu, says many vice-principals are reluctant to take the helm because of the stress involved in running a school. “Our previous survey showed that 85 per cent of them do not want to be promoted. They said that they don’t know what the job entails,” he says.
Under Education Bureau guidelines, an educator who wants to become a principal must complete the Preparation for Principalship Course, pass an aptitude test and write a professional development portfolio to show leadership qualities and a vision for the school.
“The institute will provide training for aspiring principals to help them fulfil the requirements,” Cheung says.
Together with the 10 founding members, 23 veteran principals from across the school spectrum have been recruited to serve as mentors for new head teachers to better acquaint them with their duties.
Former principal of Tack Ching Girls’ Secondary School Wong May-may says mentorship has begun in the kindergarten sector, and will be expanded to primary, secondary and special schools in September.
“Each experienced principal will take on three new principals to personally teach them leadership and school governance skills. They will share their experience in administration and knowledge of finance, and help them build up networks in education circles,” she says.
“There’s a great demand for more financial knowledge from kindergarten principals. Following the launch of the voucher scheme in 2007, kindergartens are no longer privately run and principals need to know about financial management.”
Chan says head teachers today need a breadth of knowledge. “They need to know about employment regulations and privacy statutes. Although the Education Bureau provides relevant training for principals, they can still run into problems in the job. They can call their mentors for help when problems arise.”
It took two years to lay the groundwork for the institute, which was funded by charities and personal donations from principals. Chan hopes that the institute can one day be run like its counterparts overseas, which enrol members and organise paying courses.
The institute is formulating a Proposed Principals’ Capability Framework covering the areas of personal conduct, school governance and external networking with a view to providing more reference for principals to pursue professional development.
A consultation is being held for the proposed framework, which will be made public and submitted to the Education Bureau for reference at the end of this year.