Schools hit by Principal Shortage

I don’t often copy an article published by a local newspaper but on this issue, one I’m passionate about and not just for self-interest reasons, I feel its important to it put out there for general community discussion.

VICTORIAN government schools are struggling to attract principals, with 60-hour weeks, “helicopter parents”, lack of support and insufficient pay deterring people from applying for leadership roles.

Principals have warned of a crisis, pointing to the recent failure to fill the top jobs at three prestigious primary schools in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

However, two bodies that represent principals are at loggerheads over a controversial proposal to improve conditions by giving performance bonuses.

The Australian Education Union has accused the Australian Principals Federation of a “sell-out” over its negotiations with the Baillieu government to introduce bonuses.

“Once again the APF has, in a repeat of the Kennett years, negotiated salary increases based on principals doing the work of the public servants the government intends to cut,” Australian Education Union branch secretary Brian Henderson wrote in AEU News.

Australian Principals Federation president Chris Cotching, while stressing that no agreement had been reached, said: “I support the suggestion that there is going to have to be some sort of performance management or bonus arrangement to . . . provide incentives to attract principals.”

He said it was of great concern that principals were not appointed at Laburnum Primary in Blackburn, Camberwell South Primary and Auburn South Primary after recent advertisements attracted few applicants.

“This is terribly concerning . . . for the morale and confidence of their immediate communities,” Mr Cotching wrote in a letter to the office of Teaching Minister Peter Hall.

“All are large primary schools which we would expect to be highly sought.”

Mr Cotching told The Age that punishing workloads, a perceived lack of support from the Education Department and negligible differences in pay rates for leading teachers and principals at the bottom of the scale, were putting people off. Principals earn between $101,110 and $165,911, including superannuation, while a leading teacher can earn up to $91,883.

He said most principals enjoyed the role, but many felt it was something they “can’t do for too long . . . They don’t have any sense of a balanced life . . . I think we are in a serious situation if we don’t change to give the job a bit more status.”

A 2004 report found 80 per cent of Victorian principals had high stress levels, compared with 44 per cent of the general workforce. Nearly half had a medical problem linked to work.

Mitcham Primary principal Ian Sloane was not surprised schools were struggling to find principals. “I work at least 60 hours . . . You can be going hammer and tongs from 6 in the morning to 12 at night.”

He said he was fortunate to have a supportive school council and community. However “helicopter parents” — so described for their tendency to hover protectively over their children — could be a problem.

“A lot of schools in Boroondara and other areas in the east tend to get parents who are very successful in their occupation and think they have the right to come in and tell you how to run the school . . . It can be very off-putting if you know you are going to come up against parents who are likely to bounce you around the room.”

Wilma Culton, principal of Serpell Primary School in Templestowe, who won an award this year for her work on preparing people for leadership, said many principals were unprepared for the role. “In Singapore they train them for six months before they are placed — I think that results in consistent high performance.”

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said schools in regional areas in particular had trouble finding principals.

“Most people in schools don’t believe performance pay is the answer,” he said. “However, if it is the only way to improve remuneration we need to look at it in a way that supports schools and supports principals.”

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I am a principal with over 36 years experience in schools, 18 as a principal in 3 different schools. I like my work. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family who ultimately bear the brunt of my absence or lack of balance (social, health, stress, illness and general lack of fitness).

My current school is successful, has increased in enrolments by 21% over the last 3 years, is seen as progressive and has a good reputation in the community. I have managed and led a staff that had undergone a 70% changeover in teaching staff in the last 4 years due to natural reasons (retirements, growth, family leave). I coach and mentor trainee school leaders.

AND I haven’t had a substantive pay rise (aside CPI increases through industrial agreements) in over 14 years. Please don’t insult me by saying my work has not increased in complexity over that time and that people in similar roles also haven’t had substantial remuneration increases.

I have managed all of the stressors of principal’s listed in the article including the harassing and helicopter parents.

Am I surprised by the recent non appointments – NO. I see this continuing.

Am I expecting a huge pay increase in this agreement – NO. It would be nice but I’m not holding my breath.

Am I hoping for a significant shift in community opinion about educators like the one that’s occurred in Finland – NO. That took 30 years of effort by successive governments – I don’t see that unified commitment.

Who is to blame (as if that makes it any easier) I am! I haven’t spoken out loudly. I am now!!

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2 Responses to Schools hit by Principal Shortage

  1. GregCarroll says:

    Here too Mark.
    I left principalship at the end of 2011; after 17 years. Most of them were a blast …. but you are SO right, the job is getting bigger and bigger, harder and harder.

    When the proverbial hits the fan everyone ducks; the principal can’t. It’s your fault teachers are stressed, your fault the Ministry wants you to implement dumb initiatives, your fault Jimmy or Jane in R5 has ‘issues’.
    My daughter (who has just turned 14) commented to me in the car this afternoon how cool it was not to be at someone elses school for the holidays now I was not a principal. For the first time she could remember! Man she meant it too.

    It is often a real challenge of the role not to put other peoples children before our own isn’t it. The reason we are in leadership is because we value the level of influence and relish the responsibility and decision making ability. We want to make a difference.
    The hard bit is finding the balance … for ourselves and our families.

    Pay is only one part of the equation. It can only recompense you for so much. This is not the dress rehearsal; and talking to friends in DP/AP roles they simply don’t want everything that comes with principalship. They don’t see the payoffs as even close to being worth it.

    So we have a parallel situation here, and sadly I too don’t see it getting any better any-time soon.

    • mwalker says:

      Greg thanks for the personal comment. I can imagine the smile on your face when your daughter made the comment.

      Yes unfortunately it’s the same for principals I think the world over (maybe except Finland).

      A colleague from Monash University is completing a study in this area of principal health and well being. I have booked him to present his work at a principal network meeting in September. He has some worrying trends which appear worse for our younger colleagues in principal class positions.

      I’ll keep you in the loop after his presentation.

Interested in your thoughts