Principals float ‘quick solution’ to end burnout crisis

While a lot has been said about issues like workload, burnout and violence facing school leaders, some principals say there is a possible solution that deserves serious consideration.
Ron Bamford, president of the Australian Principals Federation (APF) Western Australia branch, told The Educator that one “quick solution” to rising administrative workloads would be to create a CEO-like role to free up principals’ time.
“This role would need adjustment in the various acts to give the CEO, under the direction of the principal, power to sign off on all things non educational,” Bamford said. 
For example, the CEO could be the worksite manager under Occupational, Health and Safety laws, as well as the person responsible for final sign off on budgets and accounts.
The same could apply to the person responsible for risk management, Bamford said.
Brett Webster, principal of Ormiston College in Brisbane, agrees that the job of leading a busy contemporary school should be “a shared responsibility”.
“Schools must create opportunities to cultivate leaders at all levels, formally and informally, if they are to achieve sustained school improvement and ensure leadership succession,” Webster told The Educator.
“There is heightened and increasing expectation on schools to be innovative, to adapt and harness the opportunities provided by emerging technologies to continually improve both the learning and school management.” 
Young blood needed
Bamford said educators want to make a difference with students and that a re-focus on the role of principal to that end would make the position more appealing.
“Another issue is the changing nature of work and how it is viewed by new generations. We have many young and aspiring leaders but they are told to go away until they have many years of experience,” he said.
“We still have a traditional view of leadership which involves teachers moving into a fixed number of ‘administrative’ positions. The administrator numbers are small and young enthusiastic staff leave or give up before they are given a chance.” 
Bamford said that principals are fundamentally educational leaders and their job satisfaction comes from working with teachers and students. 
“With the devolution of authority to schools the role has become increasing complex and time consuming, he said. Unfortunately, when many staff look at the role they quickly decide it is not for them,” he said.

A ‘massive workload with no compensation’

Bamford said that when he spoke to teachers about taking on the role of a Principal Class officer, the first stumbling block was usually remuneration.  

“In pay scales across the country the pay of the top teacher is close to or even more than an entry level principal salary,” Bamford said, adding this was a “deliberate move” by governments to keep quality teachers in the classroom.

“The obvious consequence now is that no one is prepared to take on a massive workload for no compensation,” Bamford explained. 

“Principals are now leaders of medium sized businesses with an annual turnover of tens of millions but the remuneration and support structures for principals are not even close to leaders in those organisations.

“Until we pay and support principals at a reasonable level we will have an ever reducing queue of replacements.”

Taking the ‘national conversation’ to the next level
In December, Australian Catholic University (ACU) associate professor, Philip Riley – who heads the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety & Wellbeing Survey Report – called for a national conversation to address these issues.
Bamford said the APF is taking steps to raise national awareness by launching a new collaborative blog site called ‘Principals Talk’ towards the middle of this year.
“The site will put forward propositions around up- to-date research in areas such as Principal Health and Wellbeing and get Principals [both public and private] across Australia to comment,” he said.
“When the APF has an ‘Australian view’ the summary will be given to media outlets and the various governments.
“We would hope that by having a groundswell of opinion within the profession we can generate a groundswell of support by the community at large. We need governments to grab the magic wand and be prepared to wave it,” he said.