Principals forced back into classrooms as budget cuts bite

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Budget cuts in NSW public schools will see many principals and assistant principals forced to front classrooms.
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Budgets at New South Wales public schools will be slashed by up to $148 million this year as thousands of deputy and assistant principals are forced back into classroom teaching roles to help tackle urgent staffing shortages.

NSW Education Department secretary Murat Dizdar sent a letter to principals across the state on Tuesday this week, stating school budgets would be reduced by 1.25 per cent, and that any accumulated unspent discretionary funds would be frozen over the next year.

“While overall funding remains at record levels, to reflect the reduction in enrolments, address teacher shortages and better manage above centrally funded positions across the state, flexible funding for most schools will be reduced this year,” Mr Dizdar said.

“After multiple years with falling student enrolments, we need to ensure we are prioritising our teachers delivering quality teaching and learning to our students across all schools.”

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The changes will see deputy principals at NSW public schools expected to teach a minimum of one day each week. Head teachers and assistant principals will be expected to lead the classroom at least three days each week.

Assistant principals in curriculum and instruction, whose duties include overseeing major syllabus reforms across schools, will not be forced to have increased classroom teaching hours.

Budget cuts are a “necessity”

Mr Dizdar described the budget cuts as coming “from necessity” as a direct response to the state government’s attempt to ensure effective and efficient funding of public schools matches enrolments and student needs.

In NSW, public school enrolments have declined since 2019, with figures showing 25,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools in 2023, compared with pre-pandemic enrolments. The proportion of pupils in state schools fell to 62.9 per cent last year – a drop that represents the lowest share in two decades of reporting.

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“At the same time,” said Mr Dizdar, “more school flexible funding has been used to pay for a significant increase in additional executive positions in schools, which has put pressure on the teacher shortages our schools face”.

Earlier in 2024, the NSW Education Department said it was calling thousands of teachers who have retired or quit, with the aim to entice them back before the school year started.

NSW Primary Principals Association president Robyn Evans said funding cuts meant tighter budgets for schools – something she said could be incredibly difficult to implement.

“This is going to be really hard for many schools and we’ll be prioritising teaching and learning in classrooms,” said Ms Evans.

“At the moment, people are asking more questions than we have answers for.”

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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]brandx.live