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Bay of Plenty primary principals want greater recognition of workload

Ōropi School principal Andrew King said principals jobs had become more complex.

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Ōropi School principal Andrew King said principals jobs had become more complex.
Photo: Sun Media via LDR / John Borren

Bay of Plenty principals have spoken out about a “rapidly declining interest” in principalship as pay negotiations halt for the holidays.

Last week, the Ministry of Education made a second offer to primary and area school principals after they rejected the first one late last month.

The first offer for the collective agreement was a $6000 increase over two years. The second is a $4000 rise plus 3 percent on the base salary and a $750 lump sum payment.

Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa principal members will vote on the offer in the new year.

Western Bay of Plenty Principals’ Association president Suzanne Billington told Local Democracy Reporting primary principals were “disappointed to say the least” in the offer.

Ōropi School principal Andrew King said the second offer was not a “great improvement”, but pay was not the biggest problem.

“The biggest problem we’ve [principals] got is time to do our job. [Time] to do it properly, because we don’t have the staffing behind us to get things done,” King said.

There needed to be more management staff in larger primary schools and more release time for smaller school principals that also teach, he said.

Principals were “bombarded” with administration and staffing requirements, being responsible to the board of trustees, as well the health and safety, property and finance needs of the school, King said.

With 15 years’ experience as a principal, King said this was part of the role but: “that burden and accountability has increased and it’s been gradually increasing over the last 10 years and then Covid has made it worse.”

“Covid came along, which has burdened us with more health and safety issues,” he said.

“And then there’s hangover things happening from the actual pandemic to do with community wellbeing. So we just don’t see an end in sight.

“A school is becoming more and more a place of catering for community wellbeing.”

The changes to the curriculum through the Tomorrow’s Schools Review were also adding to principals’ workloads, he said.

Western Bay of Plenty Principal’s Association president Suzanne Billington.

Western Bay of Plenty Principal’s Association president Suzanne Billington says primary principals are “disappointed to say the least” in the latest offer.
Photo: Sun Media via LDR / John Borren

Billington, who is also the Tauriko School principal, agreed their roles had become more complex.

“The needs of our communities, our need to support them, and their expectations of us as school leaders have grown hugely,” she said.

“Principals have huge accountability for their school communities and in times of challenge, they are often called upon to lead (as they did during the pandemic), supporting their communities to feel secure and reassured.

“Leadership with students, staff and our communities carries huge responsibility for the pay and conditions provided.”

King said the extra accountability and complexity of the job was making it difficult to attract and retain primary principals.

“[There is] a rapidly declining interest in principalship and level of experience in principalship.”

There was also pay disparity between primary principals and experienced teachers with management units, he said.

A teacher with management units could be earning a similar amount to a principal of a primary school with 100 students.

The current collective agreements show a primary principal of a 1-100 student school earns a salary of $98,031. A primary teacher with the highest level of qualification earns an annual base salary $90,000 and can receive management units on top of this.

“There needs to be a better pay difference to attract people to leadership,” King said.

“If we had greater financial recognition for the profession, for principalship, you would attract more people to it.”

In terms of retaining principals, King said: “more and more principals were leaving for lifestyle purposes”.

Billington, a principal of 18 years, said they were “struggling” to recruit people into principalship.

“If teachers do step into principalship, many are not staying and many experienced principals have left over the last few years, particularly in the Western Bay of Plenty.”

In the past few years, principals’ pay and conditions had been eroded in comparison to the staff they lead and guide on a daily basis, Billington said.

“While we are thrilled that our staff, administration staff, and teacher aides have been recognised in recent equity payments and teachers were supported in their last collective round, principals have been left out of this work by the government,” she said.

“The gap between principals and teachers salaries has been eroded, particularly when staff gain management units on top of their base salary.

“This means many principals are not earning much more than their deputy principal or curriculum leaders in their schools.”

Principal wellbeing had become a “real issue” and this also needed to be addressed in the new collective agreement, Billington said.

“Quality leadership in schools is vital in building great schools where students, staff and the community are successful and prepared for the future,” Billington said.

“We [principals] will go on doing the mahi, but it is past the time we should be doing this with little support in pay or conditions,” she said.

“The time for taking advantage of school leaders by the government, where they expect us to lead massive change, has passed.”

In response to this, Ministry of Education education workforce hautū (leader) Anna Welanyk said: “While negotiations for both the primary teachers and the primary principals collectives are underway, we are unable to comment about specific claims.

“However, we continue to bargain in good faith and look forward to reaching agreements, in order to give members certainty for the future.”

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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