Schools Principals raise major concerns
Members’ made their concerns heard loud and clear in the latest AEU State of Our Schools survey, conducted during Term 1. Well over 10,000 members took part in the survey, including around 500 principal class members. That percentage is greater than the total proportion of principals within the school system, which speaks to the size and engagement of our PCA members.
In response to questions about principals’ main concerns at work, 84% flagged unmanageable workload as the primary issue; 73.5% confirmed that a continual stream of competing initiatives and priorities were adding to this workload, and also preventing you from implementing them effectively. We have seen examples of this problem play out in school reviews. Often the reviewer suggests seven or eight areas for attention over the next four years – yet, to do any of them well, a target of four key areas would be more achievable.
Underfunding is still at the core of the workload issue. A worrying 68% of principal respondents said their school is significantly under-resourced. The AEU recently engaged in a media blitz, highlighting the little-known fact that Victoria spends $1,384 less per student per year than the national average. That amount could support another experienced teacher for every 100 students; support time release for teams to moderate assessments; or for teams to plan and collaborate.
It could fund additional ES staff to work with non-funded students. Appropriate funding is always linked to adequate staffing and workload management. That’s why the AEU continues to prosecute funding equity alongside our EBA campaign.
Lack of DET consultation also featured highly. Take MYLNS, a program supporting student achievement through small group teaching. It’s a well-received and positive step, but there was little consultation about the rollout. The same is true of High Ability or, more recently, the Tutor Learning Initiative. These programs have merit, but the lack of consultation, tight implementation timelines and adjustments to planning all add to principals’ stress levels.
Almost half of you stated that it is getting harder to fill teacher vacancies, with advertisements occasionally leading to no appointment or, at times, attracting zero applicants. Restarting the process and managing work allocations of staff and CRTs was another chief concern.
Professional trust sits at the centre of the relationship between principals and the department. Or, rather, it should. During remote learning in 2020, the level of trust in principals went up significantly, as the urgent need to rollout online and flexible learning programs simply couldn’t be managed centrally.
Since then, the evidence keeps coming, showing that principals and the schools they lead continue to expertly engage learners, foster student achievement and provide wellbeing support throughout COVID lockdowns. But when schools return to onsite learning, the overbearing weight of departmental oversight comes crashing down again. Many of those surveyed said the lack of administrative support for principals was a significant stressor.
Of most concern, the results clearly showed the only way for principals to meet the demands of their job and provide educational leadership is to work a 60-plus-hour week. The AEU will continue to defend principals’ expertise and fight for conditions that allow them to focus on the most important aspects of their role as educational leaders.