An exploration of how principal’s leadership could affect teachers’ job satisfaction in Chinese high schools——In the context of the Double reduction policy


University of Nottingham



Module Code

An exploration of how principal's leadership could affect teachers' job satisfaction in Chinese high schools——In the context of the Double reduction policy

1. Introduction
1.1 Background
The Double Reduction Policy (DRP) is a 2021 policy implemented by the Chinese government designed to reduce the intense burdens placed on students in the Chinese school system and reduce the incidence of stress-related illnesses, such as obesity, anxiety, and suicidal ideation (Song, 2022). Chinese students have amongst the longest school days in the world (Wei, 2014), and this is often supplemented by shadow education, including tutoring and cram schools designed to help students pass intense entrance exams for high school and university (Zhang, 2014). The DRP was designed to combat this issue by placing limitations on the amount of homework that teachers can set, improve compulsory education, and reduce spending and time commitments on shadow education (Xue and Li, 2022). Despite the seeming benefits of the DRP, there have been some challenges and concerns. Parents are concerned that it will make their students less competitive, and the richest students will still have access to
shadow education (Zhong, Schneider and Mccormack, 2022). Teachers, on the other hand, are worried about the increased burden that the DRP will have on themselves. Firstly, parents may place increase pressure on teachers to cover more material and drill students in class time, and secondly, reduced homework may make it difficult for students to cover everything they need (Zhong, Schneider and Mccormack, 2022). Thus, there is a real need for research that investigates the impact of the DRP.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Much of the research conducted on the DRP has been theoretical (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023) or focused on the potential impact on students (Wang et al., 2022). Less is understood about the impact that the DRP will have specifically on teacher wellbeing and the role that principals play in the implementation of the policy. Principals have a major role to play in how schools operate and on teacher morale (Eboka, 2016), which means that they are likely to be a major stakeholder in implementing the DRP and ensuring that teachers are happy within their job. In addition to this, teacher attrition continues to be a major issue in China, partly because teachers have a high workload and low wages (Liu, 2020). Thus, there is a need to understand how the DRP will impact upon these factors and what principals can do to support teachers through this transition to ensure that teachers stay in their jobs, have improved wellbeing, and avoid burnout.
1.3 Aims and Objectives
The central aim of this dissertation is to distribute a qualitative questionnaire among teachers in high schools in China to determine the leadership style of their principal and their job satisfaction within the era of DRP (Hongying, 2007). The following objectives are based on this central aim and guide the present research:
1. To investigate teachers' perceptions of principal leadership in high schools in China, with emphasis on the DRP
a. To identify the specific aspects of the DRP that teachers believe are positively or negatively impacted by principal leadership.
b. To evaluate the consistency of teachers' perceptions across different high schools or regions within China.

2. To assess the relationship between principal leadership and teacher job satisfaction in high schools in China
a. To determine the components of principal leadership that are most significantly associated with teacher job satisfaction.
b. To analyze whether the influence of principal leadership on job satisfaction varies among teachers based on their years of experience, subject taught, or other demographic factors.

3. To identify strategies suggested by teachers for enhancing work satisfaction and working environment via principal leadership, emphasizing the DRP:
a. To catalogue actionable recommendations given by teachers that principals can employ to enhance job satisfaction and improve the
working environment.
b. To understand how the DRP plays a role in these recommendations and the expected outcomes when these strategies are
1.4 Research Questions
The following research questions for this research are presented here, and have been designed based on the problem statement, aims, and objectives of the research.
1. How do teachers working in high schools in China perceive the leadership of their principals, particularly in relation to the DRP?
2. How does principal’s leadership influence teacher job satisfaction in high schools in China?
3. How do teachers feel that principals can improve their work satisfaction and working environment, particularly in relation to the DRP?
1.5 Rationale
In recent years, the educational landscape in China has undergone significant transformations, with increasing attention being directed towards the quality of leadership in high schools. Principal leadership, being at the helm of these educational institutions, plays a pivotal role in shaping the professional environment and influencing teacher job satisfaction. Yet, there remains a paucity of research focusing on how teachers in China perceive their principals' leadership, especially concerning the DRP. The DRP, an influential component within the educational framework, has implications for both instructional practices and the general working environment. By exploring teachers' perceptions, this study aims to bridge the knowledge gap, offering valuable insights into the intricate relationship between principal leadership, teacher job satisfaction, and the dynamics surrounding the DRP. Such understanding is paramount, not only for enhancing the efficacy of principal leadership strategies but also for ensuring a conducive teaching environment. that fosters educator contentment and, by extension, optimal student outcomes.
1.6 Structure of the Dissertation
This chapter has outlined the overarching and guiding principles of the present research. The following chapter presents the context of the DRP in China, including the antecedents of the policy. Chapter three is the literature review, which focuses on teacher job satisfaction and leadership in China. Chapter four is the methodology, which gives an overview of how the research was conducted. Chapter five presents the results and discussion of the study, and chapter six presents the conclusions of the research.

2. Context Chapter
2.1 Explanation of China's Double Reduction Policy
The Chinese education system has long been known for its intense rigor and high- stakes testing, often placing considerable stress on students (Song, 2022). These pressures stem from a variety of factors, including the cultural importance placed on education as a pathway to social mobility, the emphasis on standardized testing such as the Gaokao (college entrance exam), and the competitive nature of gaining admission to top-tier universities (Song, 2022). The "996" schooling system, where students study from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, reflects this pressure-packed environment (Ren, 2021). A significant part of this stress revolves around the heavy emphasis on homework and after-school tutoring. It is not uncommon for students to spend hours each day on homework assignments, leaving little time for other activities. Additionally, to stay competitive, many families invest in private tutoring sessions, known as "cram schools," to supplement classroom learning and prepare students for these critical exams (Guo, 2022). This focus on academic work outside of regular school hours often leads to long, stressful days for students, and a blurring of the lines between school and home life. This overemphasis on academic achievement and the culture of extra tutoring has led to concerns about the overall wellbeing of students, sparking debates about the need for change in China's education system (Guo, 2022). The Double Reduction Policy (DRP) is a response to some of these claims. There are three central essences of the policy. The first is a focus on student-centered education, the second is a quality-based education, and the third is the tie in with home-school cooperative education (Xue and Li, 2022). These essences are in line with the aims of the Chinese government to reduce homework and after school tutoring, reduce the amount that families spend on this tutoring, and use funds to improve compulsory education to move away from these stressors (General Office of the Chinese Communist Party, 2021). Their stated reason is to reduce issues associated with lack of sleep, obesity, anxiety, and suicide (General Office of the Chinese Communist Party, 2021). In practice, this has meant a significant reduction in off-campus education and regulations on the tutoring industry: these have now all become non-profits (Wu, 2021). Perhaps most interestingly for this study, it has also allowed teachers to move away from more traditional teaching methods and explore student-centered approaches (Wu, 2021).
2.1.1 The Influence of the Double Reduction Policy on Education
Much of the focus of the influence of DRP is on students, who are the primary target of this intervention. The policy is new, and is going against some Chinese norms, and thus the results that have been released so far are modest and should consider this. One study showed that the rate of students with depression has dropped from 9.9% to 9.4%, and with anxiety from 7.4% to 7.1% (Wang et al., 2022). There has also been an increase in the number of both primary and secondary students that are completing all their homework from 46% to 90%, which is quite considerable (Wang et al., 2022). Thus, the policy appears to be moving in the right direction when it comes to the students themselves. For teachers, there have been mixed effects that are, again, difficult to quantify at this early stage in the policy. Teachers were, in general, excited about the possibility to break out of educational traditions and spend more time with students (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023). There was also some interest in adopting a more student-centered approach overall, with the belief that this would help students achieve and become better critical thinkers (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023). On the other hand, many teachers have noted some reticence towards the policy in terms of the increased pressure that it may have on their own workload. One interview study with 15 elementary and secondary school teachers suggested that teacher professional development is a particular challenge, as teachers had to change their approach to teaching in response to the DRP (Huang and Pi, 2022). Teachers noted that they had to “do school-based research and validate existing knowledge and experiences before applying them to the current scenario” which occurred simultaneously with their existing workload (Huang and Pi, 2022:202). Another study of 45 in-service primary and junior high school teachers suggested that there was an increase in occupational anxiety in response to the DRP (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023). This was partially because the semi-closure of external teaching facilities and a decrease in coaching has the potential to extend the working hours of teachers and increases pressure to teach all materials within class time (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023). There were also some concerns that students would fall behind academically without having access to out-of-school services and homework (Yue, Yu and Yang, 2023).
2.1.2 Responses and Reactions to the Policy
There have been few studies investigating public responses to the DRP, particularly on social media. On an investigation into topics of public concern on Weibo, 45.9% expressed concerns about equality in the educational system and believed the changes within the policy could help to reduce unequal distribution of educational resources (Jia and Peng, 2022). On the other hand, many were concerned about the economic effect, particularly on tutors and tutoring institutions that would have less business as a result of the change (Jia and Peng, 2022). Some also noted that they had already paid tuition fees at cram schools and could not get their money back after the policy was implemented (Jia and Peng, 2022). Overall, these findings are mixed, and there is a need to understand how the DRP is impacting broader relationships within the educational system. In this research, the focus is on the leadership style of principals and the impact that it has on teacher satisfaction. The theoretical framework based on this research follows.

3. Literature Review
3.1 Principal’s Leadership:Theoretical Framework
3.1.1 Transformational Leadership
There are many different ways to approach the study of educational leadership, typically involving an analysis of the types of leadership and the ways that they impact students and staff within an institution (Dimmock, 2012). Decades of research in this area has suggested that many principals do not have appropriate training in leadership, particularly in terms of making meaningful changes in the school and being accountable for student growth, achievement, and outcomes (Quin et al., 2015). This is particularly problematic as schools have become social organizations with business functions in many parts of the world (Anderson, 2017). Transformational leadership is one approach that has been suggested as a solution to this issue, where leaders and followers work together to advance the school. Leaders that follow this model work closely with their followers to change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors in a way that helps them promote the goals of the school (Anderson, 2017). This approach gives agency to teachers and allows for the development of a community spirit (Anderson, 2018). It has been shown to improve school outcomes, both in terms of teacher satisfaction (Anderson, 2018) and in student performance (Yang, 2014).