Farewell Pam Smith (Headlines)

Many of you may know Pam Smith, retiring Principals’ Organiser. Pam reflects on her time working with school leaders.

Last year when presenting a Catholic systemic principal member with her certificate in recognition of 40 years of IEU membership, she told me how passionate she was about the role but how the demands and expectations continued to escalate.

In her words, “I love my school community and being a leader of teaching, learning and wellbeing but the unrealistic workload pressures have an impact on my own health and wellbeing. I also worry that future school leaders will not find principalship attractive.”

“We already have a teacher shortage and that will flow on to filling leadership roles in future if we don’t address workload, remuneration and staff wellbeing issues in schools.”

Similar issues and concerns have been raised by Catholic systemic principal members in recent meetings to discuss enterprise agreement negotiations and by IEU independent sector principal members.

The annual ACU survey report on principals’ workloads, health and wellbeing, released in March this year, showed that the top stress factors for principals are:

  • quantity of work reflecting the increasing expectations on principals
  • lack of time to focus on teaching and learning rather than on administration and compliance
  • staff shortages, and
  • mental health issues affecting students and families.

IEU principal members across sectors have echoed these concerns and have indicated that increased administrative and leadership support in schools would be of assistance, as would enhanced access to counselling and wellbeing services for students and families.

As one principal said recently, “Being a principal is a multi-layered role with intense time pressures and unpredictability. I can be very well prepared for the day and the week but something can occur, such as a crisis with a family, which can take me away from other tasks which I then often have to deal with into the night or try to give to other over-worked staff’.

Principals also tell the IEU that there is a major need to ‘audit’ the burgeoning administrative demands on schools to ensure that they enhance teaching and learning and student welfare and are not simply compliant without real benefit to school level outcomes. The most recent ACU survey report also recommended the elimination of ‘low value’ administrative tasks for principals.

Recent experiences of COVID-19 and extreme weather events such as bushfires and floods have highlighted the leadership role of principals, as do the many other issues that affect families and communities. In the words of a principal in a small rural town, “It is a privilege, but we are a ‘go-to person’, a community leader, in good times and bad, but we also need recognition and support to continue to do our roles as principal as well as we would like.”

In my 28 years with the IEU, I have seen up close the work of principals in their schools and communities and know that they, together with teachers and support staff, are at the heart of quality education. They should be valued and supported in that vital work by their employers, by their communities and by government. I especially acknowledge the advocacy role of the IEU Principals’ Sub Branch and the principals’ chapters and reps in each diocese and also the contribution of IEU principal members in independent schools.

The IEU looks forward to continuing to work with principal members to protect and enhance their employment, professional and wellbeing interests. Again, in the words of an experienced principal member “It is an honour to be a principal but we need to support each other and to work with our union to achieve the best for ourselves, our staff, our students and their families’.

Read more from the November 2023 edition of Headlines.