Supporting the independent education community

Life in a small school

“Happy staff, happy children, happy parents” is Principal Bronwyn Underwood’s motto for life at a small school.


Underwood has been the principal at St Joseph’s Primary Catholic School, Gloucester since 2012. The 45 student school is classified as ‘hard to staff’ by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, as it is 50 minutes away from the nearest Catholic primary school and not near a large population centre.


Attracting the right staff is one of the challenges of principalship in a small rural school. Another is chasing parents for school fees. Bronwyn said in such a small community dealing with this issue requires careful handling.


“It’s important to maintain positive relationships. I find if I deal with everyone respectfully it comes back to me. That would apply to staff too.”


While most of the teaching staff commute from outside the area, there is a strong community spirit at the school, with everyone knowing everyone.


Underwood said if she could wave a magic wand, relieving herself of compliance and WHS issues this would be her first wish.


“I’m a teaching principal so I think this is an advantage for me, being in the classroom, but those compliance issues eat away at what we do.”


An IEU member for more than 30 years, Underwood joined the IEU Principals Branch as soon as she got the job at St Joseph’s Primary.


“It’s very supportive and you get more detailed information than you might from the Union’s magazines.”


The Maitland-Newcastle Rep Sidonie Coffey was Underwood’s principal when she was an assistant principal, so she has been particularly supportive.


“All the principals I’ve worked with have been great. The Diocese primary principals network is great too.


“There’s a real emphasis on principal wellbeing within the diocese.”


Underwood said she tries to avoid stress, concentrate on the important things and maintain a healthy work/life balance.


“If the principal’s not chugging along then the whole school falls over,” she said.