Under sweeping changes announced to NSW schools last year, principals will be able to hire business managers to oversee burdensome administrative duties, helping them focus more strongly on teaching and learning.
However, in the meantime, burgeoning workloads and levels of stress continue to put pressure on principals who are doing their best to juggle administrative responsibilities and driving best practice in teaching and learning.
A study by Deloitte for the NSW Department of Education has found that the state’s public school principals spend just 30% of their day on teaching and learning.
To address these concerns and help school leaders understand and navigate the changing nature of work in schools, the NSW Teacher Federation (NSWTF) recently held its annual principals’ conference.
The NSWTF 2018 Principals’ Conference involved principals from more than 40 small schools across the state who met to discuss issues facing their sector.
The session, called ‘Small Schools: Challenges and Achievements’, asked principals to look at significant issues affecting members in small school and provided them an opportunity to work with more experienced colleagues to navigate common challenges.
Principals discussed strategies to engage their local community, how to enhance student opportunities for extra-curricular activities/excursions and how to deal with the administrative burden posed by the increased compliance requirements.
“Local Schools, Local Decision is not a good idea implemented badly, it’s a bad idea working exactly as intended,” Mulheron said.
“Under this policy and a state Treasury directive to deliver a 1.5% efficiency dividend each year, hundreds of administrative and support positions had been cut with the workload shifted to schools.”
Mulheron said this has resulted in principals being occupied with much more administrative work that took time away from the primary responsibilities of curriculum, teaching and learning, and student well-being.
The rest of the conference provided a range of workshops to help principals better address key aspects of their work in schools, including addressing issues of violence and bullying from members of the community, supporting casual and temporary teachers, addressing the challenges facing small schools, and more.
The closing keynote address was delivered by Dr Rachel Wilson of the University of Sydney, who presented a stark outline of the trends in student achievement, and the changes in the academic attainment of graduates entering the teaching profession.
Despite popular narratives in the media, Dr Wilson said, negative trends were consistent across schools, sectors, and sections of society.
Whatever the issues, they were widespread, and the thinking and policies that created this situation were not going to be the solution to address it.
“We must interrogate the system data and structures rather than place the blame on schools, teachers, students (and) parents,” Dr Wilson said.