Union calls for urgent support for school leaders, new National Secretary announced

New Zealand’s largest education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa has appointed Stephanie Mills as National Secretary Korimako Tangiata, in a week when the union called for urgent support for school leaders.

“We believe that Stephanie is the perfect leader to take us into our next chapter,” NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford said. “She already has strong relationships with many of our members and has a clear vision of where we need to go.”

Mills is currently the Director of Campaigns and leads the ECE Voice project at NZEI Te Riu Roa, having also served as communications director for six years. 

Meanwhile, this week, NZEI Te Riu Roa called on the Government to act quickly in providing more support for primary school leaders.

Rutherford said, “The Government needs to urgently address the critical shortfall in support for the country’s primary school leaders or their health and wellbeing will continue to decline at an alarming rate.” 

The country’s largest education union has just launched its Te Ao Kei Tua campaign seeking to increase the number of teachers, administration and specialist support staff working alongside principals to ensure they continue to provide the best possible environment for our tamariki to learn and flourish

The long-standing concerns that underlie Te Ao Kei Tua have only been reinforced by the recently completed annual Deakin University survey and an ERO report last December that shows a continuing decline of wellbeing and health amongst our primary school leaders because they do not have the support they require.

“Principals are required to do more and more while working at a much faster pace, which is leading to their job satisfaction diminishing and their health being affected,” Rutherford said. “The fact that principals feel their wellbeing and health is continuing to decline is not good for themselves, their whanau, teachers or for our tamariki.

“Coupled with all of the stress of the continually changing nature of the pandemic and having to deal with the emergence of Omicron it’s no wonder they’re experiencing added pressure.”

The Deakin survey shows that principals believe their own health is only moderate, rating it on average at 62 (out of 100), nine points lower than the general population.

It also shows that stress stemming from the quantity of work has increased over the last five years, while almost 75 percent are working more than 55 hours per week. About 16 percent work more than 60 hours.

NZEI Te Riu Roa past president Lynda Stuart, who is the principal at May Road School in Auckland, said it was not unheard of for principals to be painting fences, making repairs to equipment and buildings, outfitting classrooms, managing numerous construction projects at any one time, cleaning toilets, and even occasionally driving the school bus.

“There is no typical day for a principal,” she said, adding they also spend time doing administration, coaching sports teams, mentoring other principals and teachers as well as being active and highly respected members of their wider communities.

“They are being stretched eight different ways and that’s just before lunch. What is required of principals these days really does demonstrate the need for increased school staffing to share the load, which was also highlighted in last year’s Pūaotanga report. 

“This would allow principals to focus on their essential professional leadership role.”

Mr Rutherford said Board of Trustee chairs have recognised much of the work principals do is behind the scenes, with the Pūaotanga report highlighting how much increases in funding for administrative support staff and access to specialist teaching staff and services would help plug the gaps principals have identified.

“You talk to principals and it’s obvious they are solutions-oriented people. They want to make things happen,” said Rutherford.

“They really do just want to provide a safe and stimulating learning experience for tamariki. It’s why our principals believe it is imperative that we address these issues this year.

“The Deakin and ERO reports should be sounding alarm bells with the Government – we can’t afford for our principals to be continually placed under this pressure and why we want to make sure that with Te Ao Kei Tua they get the support they need.”

Stephanie Mills will take up the role of National Secretary on March 7. Rutherford added, “We know that she will continue to build new and relevant ways for people to engage and come together, deepen our Te Tīriti partnership and foster new ways of thinking to ensure educators lead the shaping of teaching and learning into the future.”


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