Schools A meeting of hearts and minds

When a group of PCA leaders met face-to-face with Minister Merlino, they powerfully expressed some of the most pressing issues faced by school leaders.

As part of our VGSA campaign, we turned the attention to our principal class by running a principal photo petition. More than 100 principals and assistant principals took photos of themselves holding signs stating what needs to change in the next Schools Agreement. This unprecedented joint action by the union’s PCA members highlights the urgent need for reduced workloads so principals can focus on educational leadership rather than the overwhelming burden of excessive administration and compliance.

On the last day of Term 3, some of our experienced PCA leaders met with the state education minister, James Merlino, to communicate the urgency of a new agreement that addresses teacher and principal class workload and that respects the invaluable work of ES in our schools.

Diane Bassett from Hume Valley School, Lisa Branch from Victoria Road Primary School and David Adamson from Essendon Keilor College each described to Minister Merlino the complexity of their work and the ongoing challenges related to managing the competing demands of parents, students, DET, external agencies, and emergency management. These principals were able to communicate the urgency of a new agreement that addresses principal class workload.

Principal Lisa Branch says they sought to describe the importance and complexity of the role, and the way extreme workloads are forcing principals to make compromises that risk the quality of their work.

“We gave examples of the types of things we are working on in any given week, and what our day looks like. The meeting went for approximately 40 minutes, and in that time, I think our message was received positively by James Merlino,” Lisa says.

“He was well aware that the workload is excessive and relentless, and at times extreme and unsustainable,” says principal Diane Bassett.

Principal David Adamson says they were able to state their case clearly, and give concrete examples of how much the workload has increased – not just in the context of their own schools but across the system.

“The minister took that on board and asked a couple of pertinent questions,” says David. “He was definitely sympathetic to our cause. The meeting was well worth doing. By the nature of the minister’s questions, we could tell it was an eye opener for him.”

Principal Diane Bassett agrees. “We emphasised that many of the challenging situations need to be prioritised – in addition to the daily occurrences at the school – and our leadership requires us to focus on learning and teaching and student wellbeing and support, as well as staff wellbeing. But, alongside that, there’s competing requirements to do with the daily running of the school.

“He was well aware that the workload is excessive and relentless, and at times extreme and unsustainable,” says Diane.

Minister Merlino listened to the three principals, and expressed appropriate levels of concern about the workload issues they described. He understands that PCA leaders love being the leaders of the Education State, but they don’t love the excessive workload and 20-plus hours of overtime they are currently performing each week. Most importantly, we have seen the impact of these discussions in the negotiating room, with DET being more willing to engage directly on a number of our key issues.

At the end of the meeting with the Education Minister, members shared our principal photo petition on screen. Eventually, we hope that a bigger version might hang in the Minister’s office – although we would settle for a new agreement that answers our call for sustainable workloads.

Find the VGSA principals poster on our website at aeuvic.asn.au/sites/default/files/4104_VGSA2021_PrinsPoster_17Sep.pdf

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