Calls for greater job security for state school principals

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

An enterprise bargaining negotiation between the teachers’ union and the South Australian (SA) government aims could see state school principals offered greater job security.

Currently, principals in the state are appointed for a set term – typically five years – and are then required to reapply for that position.

The proposed change being considered by the state government in SA, however, would mean that principals would not have to reapply for their jobs as regularly and would be guaranteed to same level of pay.

The proposed move offers permanency for both public school principals and pre-school directors.

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While it would not offer a guarantee that an appointed principal would remain at the same school indefinitely, it would make the prospect of longer employment tenures more likely, the department could automatically ‘roll over’ the position – but only once and not for any longer than the original employment term.

This would mean that a state school principal could serve for five years, and then have their position rolled over for another five years. After that, their position would be advertised, and they would be required to reapply.

If the serving principal did not win the role back through the necessary recruitment process but they still wanted to remain at the school, they may have to return to a teaching position and lower pay.

A more positive employment experience

SA Education Minister Blair Boyer said the offer of permanency would give education leaders more certainty.

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“Principals and preschool directors have been calling for this for many, many years,” Mr Boyer said.

“We expect more of those leaders than ever before and it’s only right that they have some certainty in their roles.”

Read more: University study to explore the emotional demands Australian principals experience

SA Primary Principals Association president Tobias O’Connor said the offer of permanency could be a practical incentive that may encourage more teachers to apply for school leadership positions – something that would help address current shortages, particularly in remote or rural areas.

Having spent the past nine years as the principal of Keith Area School in a town around 200 kilometres from the SA capital of Adelaide, Mr O’Connor said “when you move to the country you want to be invested, often people are wanting to buy houses”.

“The continuity that this can afford in schools is a positive.”

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For school leaders not meeting the state’s Education Department expectations, Mr Boyer said the same performance management processes would remain.

So far, in 2023, 42 principal positions have been advertised in SA schools.

Ongoing negotiations with the state government and the Australian Education Union (AEU) SA branch over its next pay and conditions deal are continuing.

The AEU seeks pay increases of between 5.5 and 8.6 per cent per year for public educators, as well as more than $1bn in extra classroom support to help manage students with complex needs and ease workload pressures. The union is also demanding a 20 per cent reduction in face-to-face teaching time.

With thousands of teachers out on strike on 1 September, the union has not ruled out further industrial action.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]