While still in the development phase, the certification has been described as a “checklist” for up and coming leaders to help determine their own readiness for the role.
 
Danny Pinchas, AITSL’s General Manager - Teaching & School Leadership, says the proposed model will hand crucial agency back to those educators keen to progress up the career rungs. 
 
“It’s going to help … by guiding their selection of and participation in quality and appropriate professional learning, so it’s actually going to help them choose the professional learning that they need to be prepared for the role.
 
“We see it also demystifying the principalship, so that people can have a better understanding of the expectations of the role. 
 
“We also see that principals can use the certification model to inform professional learning opportunities that they provide to aspirants in their schools, so it’s a signal both to aspirants and current leaders on what is needed for leadership development,” Pinchas tells EducationHQ
 
Rob Nairn, executive director of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, has high hopes for the model, but warns it needs to have a focus on broad skills and capacities which educators can apply to different school contexts. 
 
“I wouldn’t like to think it’s a checklist.
 
"If it comes out as a checklist where someone says: ‘I’ve done this course and this course and this course and I can be a principal’ then I don’t think that’s achieving what we’re hoping it will achieve,” he says. 
 
Keenly aware of the challenges the sector faces in the “supply and preparation” of quality school leaders, Pinchas is hopeful the pre-principal certification will prompt younger educators to step up sooner. 
 
“…many principals are nearing retirement, so 71 per cent are aged over 50 and that mean age is increasing. 
 
“The Australian average to become a principal is at 27 years, and compare that with the OECD average which is at 21 years and (that of) countries like Singapore which is at 14 years - so it takes a while to become a principal in education in Australia.”
 
AITSL’s  model will also strive to up the appeal of principalship, giving reluctant cohorts a guiding resource to help them take the plunge. 
 
“So we know very small numbers of assistant principals, deputy principals actually intend to apply, less than ten percent…” Pinchas says. 
 
And with a focus on sharpening the pre-preparation process for aspiring school leaders, Pinchas says the certification will go a long way towards plugging gaps in the current system. 
 
“So you’ve got 30 per cent of principals say they had no instructional leadership training and 35 per cent no administration training …. so it’s a shared challenge, but the reality is that not all aspiring principals have access to high quality principal preparation,” he says.
 
Pinchas assures that AITSL has “consulted very broadly” in their planning, seeking feedback from national and international experts in educational leadership.
 
“We’ve gone out to all the education systems and sectors across all jurisdictions, school leadership professional associations, the profession itself: current principals, aspiring principals, professional learning providers, Australian teacher registration authorities, shall I go through the list ?...”
 
Stakeholders all broadly agree that the model should be:
 
voluntary
based on both the Teacher Standards and Principal Standard
provide the right balance between rigour of assessment processes and workload demands
recognise and value the specific needs that individual schools and communities have of their school leaders
recognise other professional learning experiences and programs.
 
Making the certification voluntary is crucial, Pinchas explains.
 
“…a big reason for this is that a mandatory approach could affect supply, especially in areas where it can be difficult to recruit.
 
“And making sure that it’s accessible, relevant to all contexts, [and] open to people in all career stages, so it can allow for early identification and development of those with leadership potential.”
 
Nairn agrees, pointing out England’s foray into a pre-principal certification process. 
 
“They initially made that mandatory, that’s now gone back to a voluntary certification, but it’s valued by the profession so that’s what we need to do.
 
“The profession needs to value this so that it encourages people to go through and get the necessary skills and abilities that will make it more competitive for the roles that they're applying for.”
 
AITSL will submit the proposed model to the Education Council during December.