Photo of girl student

Term 2, Week 10 (2 July) 2019

Letter to Minister Hipkins

The Primary Principals' Collective Agreement has expired and despite extended negotiations and industrial action taken in conjunction with primary and secondary teachers, we have not been offered what members consider a fair settlement. While teachers have accepted the offer made to them, primary principals have not. Below is the message I've sent to the Minister about why I'm planning to engage in "partial strike action". It doesn't explain every aspect of why the offer made to primary principals was rejected, but hopefully it will give a glimpse of what the problem as I see it is.

Tēnā koe Minister Hipkins
Today I attended a gathering at Bowen House, where my letter to the Secretary of Education about why I will not be engaging with the Ministry of Education over the next few weeks was handed over to her, along with those from many of my principal colleagues.

I'm so disappointed to find myself in this situation, but I feel a moral responsibility to be part of this action because the working conditions for primary principals are completely unfair, especially for those in small schools. In particular, I'm concerned about the lack of financial recognition that the current offer gives primary principals for the job that we do. It has been the case for many years that small school principals may earn less than Deputy Principals in larger schools, and the offer that primary teachers have now accepted exacerbates the problem.

I'm very happy that primary teachers were offered, and accepted, an improved offer that addressed at least some of the concerns we've had for our profession for a long time. I feel completely invisible however, as the offer made to principals was virtually unchanged, despite our negotiating team doing their best to convey to you the realities of the job that principals do. I know that there were some very small improvements in conditions offered to U1 and U2 principals (some extra staffing to address health and safety concerns and a very small amount of extra release time) but these do not come nearly close enough to what our negotiating team asked for in order that I could view the offer as a fair one.

I'm a U4 principal, and it's unlikely that a teacher or DP with added units will earn more than me, but we both know that this is not the case for many many principals in U1 - U3 sized schools. This impacts on nearly half of all primary principals. It's not so long ago that I was a DP in a medium sized school, where I received 4 management units. If I was still in that position, by 2020 I would have been earning more than many principals (as opposed to nearly as much as some). This is simply not fair as no DP ever has to shoulder the burden of responsibility and accountability that comes with being a principal in any sized school.

Recently ERO visited my school. They required me to attest that we meet all of the legal requirements for Board Administration; Curriculum; Health, Safety and Welfare; Personal; Finance; and Assets. These legal requirements are set out over 37 pages and are the same for every school regardless of size. The offer made to Primary Principals does not acknowledge that the job of being a principal comes with significant responsibilities and accountability that is not part of any teaching or Deputy Principal role, no matter how big the school that they may work in.

I heard you interviewed on this matter and was dumbfounded at some of your comments about the job that principals in small schools do. Either you have a limited understanding of the reality of being a principal, or you were deliberately undermining the role of principals to dissuade members of the public from supporting us. I urge you to take up some of the offers you've received to spend a day with a small school principal to find out first hand what their daily routine is and where their stress comes from. One day will not of course give you a complete and full picture, but would show that you are at least interested in understanding the issues.

In addition to the issues around levels of remuneration, I am concerned that there is no certainty that workload issues will be addressed in the near future. I appreciate that there is an accord, however I don't see how my own workload will be reduced. The issues brought into the negotiation are set out, but there is no guarantee of change, only of 'further work' being done. The accord suggests that things might get better, but there are no dates, no details and no guarantees. I don't think it is fair to expect principals to continue to shoulder the load that we do without a definite outline of immediate changes . While I welcome the accord, I don't have faith that real change will happen at the pace it needs to.

I completely understand that not everything that concerns primary teachers and principals can be fixed immediately and I'm fully aware that there are various initiatives in the pipeline that may bring some improvements. Promises mean little to me while I struggle to keep my working week to less than 60 hours and bear the weight of accountability imposed by legislation and public expectation which is driven by ERO and MOE guidance. In short, the current situation for primary principals is unfair and a better offer is needed.

The letter I delivered to the Secretary of Education today notes that I won't be engaging with the Ministry of Education in a number of specific areas. This is considered a "partial strike" - an unfortunate phrase because it suggests that as I will not be doing some work that I will not be working full time. I can unequivocally state that I will be working as hard as ever as there is too much to do.

Nāku iti noa, nā
Kathryn Smith

MoST Content Management V3.0.7013