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Primary school principals flag pay disparities

Some primary school principals could be paid less than their senior staff due to issues with the principal pay roll, say union.

Primary school principals have raised concerns about the renumeration systems for leadership roles, stating it may deter educations from taking on senior jobs.  

Currently, principal salaries are determined by the principal grading roll, which is based off the number of students at a given school. For principals of small schools (defined as those with less than 150 students), their salaries may be less than some of their senior staff once Management Units and other allowances for leadership roles are added on. There are currently 862 small schools around the country. 

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Principals of small schools may be paid less than their staff because of their ineligibility for Management Units, despite some taking on the extra responsibilities that Management Unit allocations are meant to compensate for.  

Primary principals of small schools take on many other responsibilities. Photo: AdobeStock by Dmitriy

Caro Wills, principal of Mākara Model School in Wellington took a $12,000 pay cut to take on her current role. Previously, she was a deputy-principal at a medium sized school.  

“Two years ago, I took on the role as principal… believing it would be a significant step in my career, but I didn’t anticipate the substantial pay cut I’d be taking as a consequence. I ended up taking a $12,000 pay-cut in what really should have been a promotion,” said Willis.  

Willis described the situation as “disheartening” and said that half of her team at her small school earned more than her.  

“The pay disparity makes it seem like the career pathway for principals of small to medium sized schools is fundamentally broken, and to many I’ve spoken to it dissuades leaders from taking on the roles,” said Willis.  

Willis also pointed out that being a principal of a smaller school meant there were fewer people to delegate to, calling the responsibilities “astronomical” and “overwhelming”. She said that principals often took on extra tasks and responsibilities precisely because smaller schools have smaller teams.  

Willis has also taken on an extra job as a way to earn a little more money, though “it certainly doesn’t recuperate what I’ve lost.”  

She notes that although the Ministry of Education and other organisations have identified it as an issue, it has yet to be resolved.  

Jane Cocoran, principals’ representative with NZEI Te Riu Roa and principal of Brunswick School in Whanganui said that “when you’re a principal it doesn’t matter if you’ve got 7 kids or 700. When you’re employed by BoT you get the same job description. The same amount of paperwork, compliance instruction falls over the desk of a large-school principal of 2000 as it does of a small school principal of 150 kids or less.  

Additionally, Cocoran noted that small school principals tended to take up many more responsibilities like caretaking, cleaning, driving, admin and leadership roles like head of sport, numeracy, literacy or supporting students with additional needs.  

Principals of small schools often take on other roles such as caretaker, says union representative. Photo: AdobeStock by Dziurek

Teachers don’t get paid on numbers, they get paid on the job they do,” said Cocoran, adding that it was “inequitable and unfair” for principals to be paid on their school roll.  

“Currently, the Ministry of Education is just tinkering with the current pay scale but it’s not going to solve the problem.”  

Cocoran said that the current principal pay scale was “archaic” and “not fit for purpose”, noting that the negotiation team was pushing hard for the issue to be fixed. 

Ideally, Cocoran said that they would like to see one base-salary for all principals, with add-ons in acknowledgement of national or local leadership roles.  

“There’s fundamental issues with the current system,” Cocoran said. “We’re losing really good people. We’re losing these leaders that come in thinking that principalship is a promotion, it’s a career pathway. But then the reality is far different to what they thought it would be.  

“Each week we are losing quality leaders in our education system purely through burnout.  

“The fact that principals are being paid less than their colleagues is not okay,” Cocoran concludes.  

In response, the Ministry of Education has said that “we can confirm principals of smaller schools – those with 100 students or less – will receive up to 20 percent salary increase over the next two years due to the new collective agreement… in addition to the salary increase the introduction and increase in various allowances will result in better pay parity for principals at smaller schools compared to larger schools.  

“A deputy principal could receive the maximum amount of units and this could result in a situation where the deputy principal salary exceeds that of being a principal, though that is very rare.”  

The full interview with Willis and Cocoran can be found on the Nine to Noon podcast, here 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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