'Frustrated' principals launch work ban

May 3, 2023

'Frustrated' principals launch work ban

Greenhithe Primary School principal Stephen Grady is just one of many participating in the ban. Photo: Sophie Watson

“Frustrated” school principals are limiting their workload in a fight for better working conditions.

The work-ban, which officially began on April 24, sees primary school principals limiting their work hours to between 8am and 5pm, at least five hours a week fewer than normal.

Greenhithe Primary School principal Stephen Grady says that roughly 70 per cent of principals are working upwards of 50 hours a week.

Their work consists largely of managerial tasks, leaving little time to focus on education, says Grady.

“It’s the best job in the world. It’s just frustrating that half your time isn’t doing the stuff you know has an impact [on the kids].”

He says the ban covers principals who are part of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), and addresses a range of issues primary school principals are struggling with.

“What we’re fighting for is not necessarily the big pay packet… actually what we’re fighting for is conditions for our school, release time for our teachers, support for our small rural schools, as well as pay that makes the position attractive.”

The two-month long strike has principals pausing on ministerial work, such as withdrawing from ministry led initiatives, not looking at ministry paperwork, and not sending in requests for information, among other things.

“The idea is to disrupt [the Ministry’s] workstreams, hopefully helping to bring them to the table.”

Upper Harbour Primary School principal Sue Smith says the current working conditions are preventing teachers from wanting to step up.

Smith is one of many principals that are members of NZEI who are passionate about the movement.

“I just truly believe we need to make a stand and say ‘hey, hang on. This is not sustainable; we can’t keep going like this.’ Somehow the message needs to get out and this is the mechanism we’ve got now.”

She also says the work ban offers support to principals of rural schools.

“Because of the size of the school, you’re required to teach classes… and all of the mandatory things we have to do as principals, you’ve got to accomplish in three days instead of five like everybody else.”

Grady says that despite the principals’ push back, the students will always be the focus.

“We’re also really mindful of our kids… coming back from disruption through Covid. We’re really trying to make sure we can have an effect on the sector without having a negative impact on our kids because that’s why we’re all here.”

Negotiations for new pay agreements began mid-last year, and a second offer was rejected by principals in February.

Grady says they haven’t heard from the Ministry since the March 16 teachers’ strike and that they just want an offer.

“I’ll be quite disappointed if we’re not done in 2 months.”

There are currently three different groups within the education sector making negotiations with the Ministry.

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