Primary school principals and the purposes of education in Australia: Results of a national survey

Neil Cranston (Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Bill Mulford (Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)
Jack Keating (University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Alan Reid (University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes, Australia)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Publication date: 6 July 2010



The purpose of this paper is to report the results of a national survey of government primary school principals in Australia, investigating the purposes of education, in terms of the importance and level of enactment of those purposes in schools.


In 2009, an electronic survey was distributed to government primary school principals in Australia seeking their views on the purposes of education. The survey comprised 71 items of a closed format and three items of an open‐ended format. Respondents rated first the importance they ascribed to particular purposes of education, then second the degree to which they believed these purposes were actually enacted in their particular school. Factor analyses were conducted on the item responses. Differences between importance and enactment of purposes are discussed together with reasons for these differences.


The findings overwhelmingly point to tensions between what they, the principals, believe ought to be the purposes of education and what the strategies to achieve those purposes might be, and the realities of what is actually happening. It could be argued that the results indicate a major shift away from public purposes of education to those more aligned with private purposes. Many of the barriers to achieving a greater focus in schools on public purposes are seen to be related to external (to the school) issues, such as government policy decisions, differential funding and resourcing across school sectors and emerging community and societal factors.

Research limitations/implications

This research complements other aspects of this project into the purposes of education in Australia. There are some limitations to the reported findings in so far as only government principals participated in the survey. Non‐government school principals were invited but declined to participate.


This is the only piece of research of its kind in Australia and provides unique insights – those of principals – into what schools are focusing on and what the leaders think they ought to be focusing on. There are clearly policy and practice implications of the research.



Cranston, N., Mulford, B., Keating, J. and Reid, A. (2010), "Primary school principals and the purposes of education in Australia: Results of a national survey", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 48 No. 4, pp. 517-539.

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