The Maltese primary school principalship : perceptions, roles and responsibilities
The main aim of this research was to investigate the conditions that influence and shape the occupational perceptions of principals; systematically observe primary school principals in the islands of Malta, and to contrast these findings with the perceptions of a group of deputy principals. To achieve this aim three studies were conducted. The first study employed a self-administered questionnaire survey method employed with all principals in primary schools (i. e. state, church and private). 'Discussions with parents', 'discussions with staff' and 'desk work' have been highlighted as the major job functions taking up most of the principals' time. Half of the respondents rated 'desk work' as their majorjob function. The Maltese principal tended to perceive his/her role as falling within the chief executive model. The principal's duties related largely to the division and allocation of work, the co-ordination and control of organisational activities, communication with parents and staff, maintaining discipline and order, and maintaining the level of resources and plant upkeep. This survey, however, shows that principals wanted to take on functions within the leading professional model. In the second study, an observational study was conducted with the aim of checking out some of the perceptions principals held towards their role and to add another dimension to the overall picture by identifying what principals actually did in their daily life at work. The study explored the work patterns of eight primary school principals in the state sector. The observational study attested to the multi-varied nature of the principal's role. The principal's day was generally hectic in pace, varied in its composition, discontinuous and superficial in any pursuit of tasks, with the unexpected always as one of the few certainties of thejob. The principal's energy was observed as being devoted to keeping the school ticking over in the short run with hardly any time being devoted to discuss matters of direct relevance to the teaching-learning process, such as classroom practice, curriculum review and update. The dominant model was that of the transactional leader who is fixing things, managing and coping in order to maintain the smooth operation of the organisation. As highlighted in the questionnaire survey principals devoted their time to administration, pastoral care and communication with parents. Little to no time was stated as being devoted to high value tasks such as strategic planning and curriculum review. The portrayal of Maltese primary school principals is that they are not so much reflective or transformational leaders, rather they are chronically busy, reactive as against proactive, and caught up in, and tied down by the unceasing demands of others for their attention. The present research seems to have identified the transactional nature of leadership as the main medium of interaction that the primary school principals opted for. Bearing in mind the present period of changes and development of school management practices in Malta, it was felt appropriate to seek feedback from deputy principals whose own role was undergoing change. A small group of twenty newly-appointed deputy principals were approached to view how they perceived the role of the principal. At the same time it sought to identify their perceptions of their own role, and get an indication of how they viewed tomorrow's principalship. This, it was felt, would provide data as to how Maltese administrators in general viewed their role. Deputy principals presented similar feedback to that presented by principals. The major difference being in the way deputy principals perceived tomorrow's principalship – one which went beyond the transactional model of principal as administrator to the transformational model of principal as leading professional. However, nothing conclusive can be drawn out. There is a strong indication that principals and deputy principals desire this move but some responses express a certain degree of inconsistency which shows that the implications behind the transformational model are not well and truly understood by the participants of this survey. The implications of the findings for today's and tomorrow's principalship were discussed.