Published in The West Opinion 17th February 2022

Education Act employees in WA are negotiating a new agreement with the WA Department of Education.

To say this is true negotiation is a gross misrepresentation of what is actually taking place.

The Principals’ Federation of WA has presented a log of claims that represents the major issues facing our current school leaders of which salary is just one.

The Department of Education has responded with an offer that reflects the Government’s general public sector wages policy, a policy that does not recognise the detrimental impact of five years of negative growth, taking school leaders’ salaries in WA from parity with the Eastern States to a position where they are now severely behind.

This policy is fixed for a further two years with no negotiated outcome offered, and with agreements currently being reached in Victoria and NSW, will place school leaders in WA even further behind — a move which will only exacerbate the current staffing crisis across WA.

Former premier Geoff Gallop, in a paper presented to the NSW Government, outlines a strong argument for governments to recognise how the roles of teachers and school leaders have changed, and provide salary and incentive to match the roles.

How else do we expect to attract the brightest young minds to educate those who will be our leaders in the future?

The Principals’ Federation believes the significant increase in responsibility and accountability that is expected of a teacher moving into school leadership is not matched by a significant difference in salary — and this is deterring many highly capable people from making that transition.

Salary, though, is only one issue facing our school leaders that the PFWA wants to shine a light on. School leaders in this State are under enormous pressure, evidence of which comes from over 10 years of research by the Deakin and Catholic universities on their health and wellbeing.

The pandemic over the past two years has only added to the load that has continued to build for school leaders over the past decade or more. Accountabilities and delegations continue to pile up, and while principals in larger schools with support around them struggle with the increased expectations, spare a thought for principals in our smaller, mostly regional, schools who have the same expectations of them, but no one with whom to share the load.

Our regional school leaders are in fact expected to pay for the privilege of taking up a regional appointment by paying unrealistic rents, often in homes that are barely maintained.

And now, as we find ourselves in the midst of a Statewide housing boom, that situation has only intensified.

Both the Government and Department of Education trade on the ongoing good will of school leaders, but place little or no value on it, expecting them to devote their own time and resources to the job without recompense via time repaid or allowances.

Receiving air purifiers delivered on the weekend or ensuring the safety of students in communities facing catastrophic bushfires are two very recent examples where there is no recompense for school leaders giving their own time for the betterment of their school and community.

While they will continue to stand up for the physical and mental health of their staff, students and communities regardless, we are asking that this additional burden is recognised. We have repeatedly asked for a small amount of money per school to support our school leaders own health and wellbeing but have repeatedly been met with a brick wall.

The public education system is a key pillar of a free democratic society, and at the core of a strong public education system is strong school leadership.

They are inextricably entwined. In WA, public education has been badly let down by a Government that has boasted two years of multibillion-dollar Budget surpluses and it is future generations who will pay the ultimate price.

The McGowan Government has the opportunity now to plan for investment, in the short, medium and long term, so that school leaders are not only rewarded for the critical role they perform but are supported to ensure the continued strength and growth of school leadership into the future.

Bevan Ripp is president, Principals’ Federation of WA