2 May 2022
For immediate release
The peak body representing public school leaders across WA has rejected outright the government’s recent revised pay offer of 2.75 % pa over two years, the offer comprehensively failed to address significant issues the PFWA had raised at a time when its members were under unprecedented pressure.
Principals Federation of WA President (PFWA), Bevan Ripp, said his members were exhausted after a chaotic and interrupted first school term that followed two years of uncertainty and anxiety, with school leaders left feeling overworked, underappreciated and ignored. However, the pandemic is not the root cause of the problems facing public schooling in WA, it has only exacerbated the challenges already in existence.
Mr Ripp said that while restrictions have been lifted, and the directions for managing a Covid environment have been eased, the previously existing problems of facing the leadership of public schools are still there.
“Most of what was announced as a ‘relaxation of restrictions’ for term two which were supposedly designed to lighten the workload of school leaders was already happening, so for our members it means essentially no change in their workload at all. What it does do is insult our school leaders who are already working beyond capacity and facing burnout, offering them no relief or assistance,” he said.
In response to the Department of Education’s latest offer, Mr Ripp said his members had been consistently ignored over successive bargaining periods and the offer fell significantly short of what is required to show that the employer values the school leaders of this state.
“My members have just had enough, with many reporting that they are thinking of leaving the job altogether at a time when we are facing critical shortages.
“Our school leaders deserve better from a government with a record surplus which is seemingly more interested in infrastructure projects than investing in school leaders who create the environments where students, staff and community thrive. We have had enough of the hollow rhetoric,” he said.
“Even prior to Covid our school leaders worked consistently through weekends and holiday periods to ensure their schools are prepared, staffed, safe and maintained, while responding and planning for the health and wellbeing of students, parents and vulnerable and sick staff members. And for those school leaders at the entry level of school leadership, they are rewarded with a salary marginally above that of the highest paid classroom teacher.
“All with little or no support in terms of ensuring their own health and wellbeing is addressed at a time when they are individually and collectively stretched to the limit,” Mr Ripp said.
He said PFWA members were unanimous in their decision to reject the government’s latest offer.
“Covid has simply highlighted further the need to address health and well-being issues in students and staff, however, while it is recognised that Principals have the responsibility of managing this, the Department of Education refuses to acknowledge its responsibility on behalf of Principals”, was a regularly repeated comment in a recent survey of members.
“The need for strong pastoral care for students, staff and parents has increased significantly over the last few years. Principals are charged with this responsibility, but receive little support, and when it comes to their own health and well-being they are told “Principals need to look after themselves”. Things will continue to spiral with good people leaving the system in growing numbers,” continued the theme.
Others reported spending more and more time relief teaching in the classroom to cover rolling staff absences, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future, leading to an increase in work being done out of hours including on weekends, communicating with anxious parents about constantly changing regulations and dealing with the added stress of staff and students, all of which “is only adding to my existing stress levels”.
In addition to the operational demands of each school day, the increase in middle management and staff movement continues to erode school staff stability, leaving school leaders with additional pressures to adequately induct new staff to most effectively drive and sustain whole school improvement.
Among the list of claims submitted to the Director General of Education as part of the second round of negotiations was a call for a 5% salary increase per year for Principals and Deputies over three years.
Mr Ripp said that salary and remuneration of WA school leaders currently lagged well behind that of their Eastern States counterparts, whereas prior to the election of the McGowan Government in 2017, WA school leaders were at parity (or better) with their eastern states’ counterparts. Five years of a draconian Government Wages Policy has unfairly penalised school leaders in WA as a result.
“The current lack of funding and appreciation of the role of our school leaders is a huge part of the reason why teaching as a post-graduate degree is nowhere near as desirable an option as it once was, and this should be a major concern for this government. It is also a significant contributor to staffing problems across regional WA, highlighted by the turnover of Principals in the Wheatbelt Region, where, in the past twelve months nearly half of its 69 schools ran selection processes for Principals.”
“Some Principals have reported staffing issues that have resulted from an increase in teacher resignations as they choose casual work instead due to the increased demands of the role. We need to have a think about how the future of teaching looks and how we are going to attract young people to the sector to educate the children of tomorrow. We need to put incentive back in so we attract more young people into teaching, then retain them so they might aspire to be leaders in the education sector. The current offer does not demonstrate that this profession, in particular its school leaders, is valued.
He said it was time for the government to recognise the value of a well-resourced public school system, led by well-rewarded and well-resourced school leaders, and to make a long-term commitment to investing in their development and well-being.
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