So, you want to be a school principal?

The role of a school principal has intensified significantly in recent decades to the point teachers who aspire to leadership positions are now encouraged to undertake postgraduate studies.

Overworked, stressed and burnt out are some of the words used to describe today’s principals who are weighed down by ever-increasing accountability demands from governments, parents and society.

A survey released earlier this year found that one in five principals is overwhelmed by workplace stress, with the workload described as unsustainable.

The Australian Catholic University survey of 2800 principals, deputy principals and assistant principals also found half had faced threats of violence while one-third had experienced violence.

Central Queensland University’s (CQUniversity) Professor Alison Elliott says teachers are less inclined to make the leap to becoming principals because of limited professional development and mentoring opportunities in the sector.

“It’s an extremely complex job and you do need specialist skills to be effective in the role,” she says.

Professor Elliott says many universities now offer post graduate courses ranging from masters degrees to graduate certificates to help prepare teachers who want to pursue a career at the head of a school.

The tertiary educational leadership courses are designed for aspiring principals, deputy principals and assistant principals, differing in emphasis depending on the university.

Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA) president Andrew Pierpont says post graduate qualifications are advantageous however he warns about selecting the right course.

“In my experience there are a lot of courses that focus on management and not leadership and there is a vast difference between the two,” says Andrew.

“The content of the course needs to be just so. It needs to be a blend of practical and research. Like teaching it’s one thing to learn how to teach and it’s another to get up in front of 30 students and do it.”

Industry viewpoint

Masters degrees which take a number of years or online graduate certificates which can be done in the student’s own time are some options available to senior teachers who want to step up to leadership positions at school.


Professor Alison Elliot, who coordinates CQUniversity’s Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership, says post graduate study is recommended for senior teachers who have a number of years in the classroom under their belt.

A teaching qualification and teacher registration are required for enrolment in most cases.

For CQUniversity’s graduate certificate, teachers are also expected to be employed in an education setting so as to undertake the practical components of the course.

“The graduate certificate is designed for teachers working in a school so they can relate the assessment to the workplace and get involved with the community, staff, families and stakeholders,” she says.

Study options

Attending physical lectures and workshops is no longer a necessity in tertiary education, with many university students now able to fit study around the demands of life.

Professor Elliott says CQUniversity’s graduate certificate is an online only course that includes four units which students may choose to study singly or in pairs, completing the course in six months or a year.

“Universities suggest about 10 to 15 hours of study per week, per subject,” she says.

“We also understand that people are very busy with work, families, commuting and want to be able to study at a time that suits them.”


Although a postgraduate qualification is not necessary to becoming a principal, Professor Alison Elliott says it does help in an age where school leaders face intense pressures.

“Educational leadership courses are advantageous for seeking executive and leadership positions in schools,” she advises.

“It is rare these days to be going into a principal role without a post graduate qualification.”







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