NEP: train principals to lead the change

NEP: train principals to lead the change

The draft National Education Policy (NEP) has drawn considerable attention. This multi-year consultative process has brought out a number of proposals focused on improving the quality of education. One area that the NEP addresses but has not tackled adequately is the role of school principals in the revamped education system. 

India needs a cadre of excellent school principals to transition to the high-quality system desired in the NEP, and we propose some steps to address this. Our experience working with principals has shown that targeted training and coaching support for the results in better student outcomes.

The NEP seeks to devolve the administration of many new policies to the school level, with the school principals responsible for the execution and ‘School Management Committees’ overseeing the progress. Broadly, schools will be consolidated into ‘school complexes’, which will be led by the principal of the secondary school.

The NEP further proposes numerous changes at the school level, ranging from incorporating early childhood education centres to mother tongue and
multi-lingual learning to incorp­oration of technology to teacher professional development. These are complex change processes and school principals have a critical role to play in rolling these out. The education ecosystem must ensure they are prepared to take on these tasks.

Thus far, in the public education system, as the NEP says, school principals have been appointed largely based on seniority and not leadership aptitude. Besides the standard teacher training qualifications, there is no additional credential or pre-service preparation required to be a school principal. Such a lack of investment in leadership would be unheard of in other sectors such as the civil service or the corporate sector.

Recognising this gap in preparing the leaders of our school system, the government set up the National Centre for School Leadership (NCSL) under the aegis of NIEPA in 2012. NCSL has created a national framework of standards for school leadership and has supported various states in creating their own plans for supporting school principals. This initial step must be accompanied by more to improve the selection, preparation and accountability of school principals.

One, we need to establish a selection process for school principals so that only those with a demonstrated aptitude and attitude for leadership are chosen for this critical role. The framework established by NCSL must be adopted by states, with adaptations where necessary and feasible. More importantly, states should use these standards to create a principal aptitude test (PAT) that mirrors the process proposed for the teacher eligibility test (TET). This process is outlined in the NEP, which states, “Leaders of schools will be chosen by the DSE and its relevant officers on the basis of relevant capacities, determined through their performance appraisal, and not on the basis of seniority.”

Two, we need to have a rigorous training programme for school principals. This should begin with courses on instructional leadership incorporated in the basic curriculum for teacher training institutions. Once principals are appointed, there should be a comprehensive continuous professional development course that they are required to participate in.

The NEP refers to this envisioning “50 total hours of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) modules per year, covering leadership and management, as well as content and pedagogy for the teaching aspects of their jobs.”

Third, as School Management Committees are empowered to govern the school, we need to ensure that the responsibilities of the school principal are clearly delineated so that they know the areas on which they are expected to deliver. The NEP explicitly assigns broad responsibilities to principals. We believe that these need to be defined more clearly into specific outcomes for which school principals are responsible. This would enable them to have clarity on their role, as well as provide pathways for the education system to support them in their growth and development.

Finally, from our experience of training school principals across seven states in India, we would recommend the following measures to ensure that principals who are most effective in their positions  

1. Have a clear framework for stating all their responsibilities

2. Ensure that a significant portion of their time is spent on developing a student-centred vision for their school and supporting and developing teachers to improve their teaching practices

3. Reduce the amount of time they spend on non-academic administrative matters. While the NEP refers to teachers being freed from administrative tasks, it does not specifically refer to principals. Our data shows that principals in public schools spend over 50% of their time on non-academic administrative tasks. This is a major drain on their effectiveness.

As the NEP is strengthened through public comment phase and moves into implementation, we hope adequate attention is paid to the leadership that will make this complex change process happen. Our children deserve the best from our leaders, and we must ensure that our leaders are prepared and supported for their crucial role.

(Lobo is CEO, India School Leadership Institute (ISLI); Oommen is Co-founder of Global School Leaders)