Ministers take aim at principals’ workload and wellbeing issues

Ministers take aim at principals’ workload and wellbeing issues

On Friday, the nation’s Education Ministers met in person and online at Kelmscott Senior High School in Perth, where they discussed their responses to the major issues facing Australia’s schools in 2024.

Among the topics discussed were a school funding, child safety, teacher workloads and wellbeing, and managing disruptive classroom behaviour. Other items on the agenda were vaping, mobile phones, initial teacher education reform, and the Universities Accord.

For the first time, occupational principal health, safety and wellbeing was put on the agenda after Education Minister Jason Clare committed to urgent action off the back of alarming new research.

The latest Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey shows more than half of the nation's school leaders are considering quitting or retiring early due to stress, and increasingly unsustainable workloads.

On Friday, Ministers received a presentation from the Presidents of the Australian Secondary Principals Association (ASPA) and the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) on the issues that school leaders continue to face in 2024.

“Ministers expressed their continued support for principals and school leaders and acknowledged the work already underway across jurisdictions to support their wellbeing,” Minister Clare wrote in a communique that followed the Education Ministers Meeting on Friday.

“Ministers asked officials to work with stakeholders and provide advice on further actions that could support principals and school leaders. Ministers will continue discussions on principal and school leader wellbeing at the next meeting of EMM.”

Principal wellbeing now firmly on the agenda

Australian Secondary Principals' Association (ASPA) President Andy Mison said the Association is pleased that the importance of retaining and sustaining principals and school leaders “is now firmly on the national agenda.”

"EMM has responded to the requests from ASPA and APPA for education officials to work with the national peak bodies to provide advice on further actions that can support principals and school leaders,” Mison said.

“With this renewed collaborative focus from Education Ministers, we look forward to developing and implementing practical measures to assist and enable our principals and school leaders to thrive in the job they love on behalf of school communities across the country.”

Chris Duncan, CEO of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) said his organisation "acknowledges the breadth of issues" being considered by the Education Ministers and thanked them for their "wide consultation and willingness to work with stakeholders to address these issues for the benefit of all students."

"Our Association continues to support the positive actions taken by the Education and Health Ministers addressing the issue of vaping and its harms for children and young people," Duncan told The Educator.

"AHISA looks forward to continued discussions around wellbeing for principals and the development of a national strategy to support school leaders managing a range of increasing complexities in Australian schools. We recognise the efforts made by Australian governments to identify and respond to the core issues facing Australian schools and their students in their care."

'An encouraging start'

Dr Paul Kidson, a former principal and a senior lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, said it's "an encouraging start" to have both APPA and ASPA able to speak directly to the nation's Education Ministers.

"The two associations represent thousands of principals across the nation and have excellent understanding of the practical challenges for principals," Dr Kidson told The Educator.

"It’s also encouraging that ministers are seeking further feedback on how systems and policies can be shaped to enable school leaders to do their work in a more sustainable and healthy manner."

However, Dr Kidson acknowledged "there’s a long way to go" in a year where funding agreements are also being negotiated.

"In the desire to get better outcomes for education across the nation, these two priorities can’t work against each other," he said. "New initiatives must be carefully developed to avoid adding further workload to already stretched and stressed professionals."

Dr Kidson said the challenge for Ministers now is "to see how one part of the system has implications across other parts of it".

"It would be a disappointing outcome to have some success on the one hand, like that which is possible following APPA’s and ASPA’s briefing, only for it to be negated by new reporting and accountability requirements potentially coming in any new funding agreement."