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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Win for teaching principals in small schools

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A community campaign supported by The Echo has seen the government back down on its proposal to remove principals from small schools; however, the door has been left open for the DEC to combine schools should the current principals leave.

In further good news, Durrumbul Public School has received word that it is not being targeted for closure.

The changes to the government’s much-touted new small-schools policy emerged in a new deal reached between teachers and the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) earlier this month.

The agreement will allow the most talented classroom teachers to earn a six-figure salary, and has linked principals’ pay to the ‘complexity’ of their school rather than school size.

Under the terms of settlement agreed at a stop-work meeting of the NSW Teachers Federation on December 3, principals of small schools will be reclassified as Teaching Principals. They will maintain their present allocation of time for administrative tasks.

According to president of the Mullumbimby Teachers Association Wil Constable, ‘no working conditions have been lost and no small school will be forced to close or be made work in with a larger local school’.

‘This represents an opportunity for all small-school communities to ensure that they are working to support and drive their school forward into the future,’ he said.

But, Echonetdaily has discovered, if the position becomes vacant the department can still step in and force unwanted changes on the school community.

Under Clause 5.3 (i) of the agreement, should a teaching principal position become ‘vacant’ (eg after a principal leaves a small school) ‘the deputy director-general, public schools NSW, will determine whether a school with a teaching principal… will be linked to a larger school in reasonable proximity to reduce the administrative workload. Where this occurs, the… position will be classified as an associate principal’.

The associate principal would receive reduced pay and increased face-to-face teaching time but reduced administrative duties.

Sharon McGrath, secretary of the Wilsons Creek School P&C, told Echonetdaily, that while she was pleased the DEC had listened to the strong community opposition to their proposal to remove principals from small schools, ‘I don’t believe the terms of settlement go far enough to secure their future’.

‘Should the position of teaching principal become vacant, the deputy director-general (DD-G) will determine if that small school will be linked to a larger “hub” school. The removal of decision-making power and autonomy poses a grave risk to the viability of small schools and to the communities in which they exist. The state Liberal government must be held to account on their promise of Local Schools Local Decisions; small schools need support to not only survive but to thrive.’

In reaction to the deal, the NSW Primary Principals’ Association (NSWPPA) has said that it was ‘unaware of any proposal to downgrade the status and role of PP6 and PP5 principals’ until very late in the process.  They note that on the DEC intranet site ‘the matter of making a decision on a school becoming an “Associate Principal” school when a vacancy occurred (informally known as the ‘hub and spokes’ model) would be the subject of extensive consultation with the local school and its community, before the DD-G Public Schools makes a final decision’. Although this wording was not included in the terms of settlement the NSWPAA say they have ‘sought and were given a guarantee this week, by the DD-G (Corporate Services) that this consultation would most certainly occur.’

The NSWPPA say that they have also raised with the DEC the issue of the number of smaller schools, they believe in excess of 60 schools, where the Principal position has not been substantively filled, in some instances for a considerable length of time. The NSWPPA position is that these schools and their communities should have a substantive Principal appointed ASAP and, according to NSWPPA President Geoff Scott, the NSWPPA will continue to push for these appointments to be made.

However, the situation of Durrumbul Public School now appears assured. Principal Brev Belleville told Echonetdaily that DEC Lismore Region director John Lynch had assured the Durrumbul school community that the school ‘was not in a position where it would be amalgamated, or in a position that would see the school close’.

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