Southern principals back ditching NZEI

St Clair School principal Jen Rodgers. Photo: Supplied
St Clair School principal Jen Rodgers. Photo: Supplied
The majority of southern primary school principals are backing the New Zealand Principals’ Federation’s (NZPF) proposal to start a new union.

Late last week, the Federation suggested primary principals break from the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), after hundreds across the country said they were dissatisfied with NZEI over three main issues — the union's present focus on pay equity for support staff, lack of progress on workload and wellbeing problems, and last year's collective agreement settlement.

However, NZEI has urged its members to stay with the union, and warned that a new organisation would "chip away" at their collective strength.

St Clair School (Dunedin) principal Jen Rodgers said NZEI was doing an "amazing" job for learning support staff in schools, but primary principals felt like they were being left behind.

"[NZEI’s] job is very big, because they’ve got an enormous number of people to support, and I think principals are feeling left out."

Southland Primary Principals’ Association president Wendy Ryan said the majority of Southland primary principals were unhappy with the present situation, and were supportive of exploring alternatives.

"For a while now, principals have felt a sense of frustration.

"We don’t feel that a lot of the workload and stress issues have been addressed and we’re losing principals all the time.

"We’ve got principal jobs advertised all the time but we don’t have people applying for them because teachers’ pay and conditions have got better and the gap between teachers and principals has got smaller.

"A lot of principals are going into other jobs away from teaching because the work load is affecting their wellbeing.

"We’re not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.

"There’s definitely a strong feeling across the region that we need a union to start advocating for primary principals in a stronger capacity."

Oamaru North School principal Stacey Honeywell agreed. She also believed the present system did not work well because principals were represented by the same union that represented employees.

"So if you need to deal with an issue involving an employee [a teacher], they represent both of us and it just doesn’t work very well.

"Currently, the union works for so many people — it works for our support staff, our teachers.

"I believe if we had our own bespoke principals’ union, they would have a better understanding of the principals’ roll and its challenges."

However, not everyone was in agreement.

Remarkables Primary School (Queenstown) principal Debbie Dickson said she was "sitting on the fence" for the time being.

"It’s very early days. I think NZEI are currently in negotiations with NZPF about the issues that have been put on the table by New Zealand principals and how they can work together.

"For me, it’s about not jumping too quickly. It’s about being reflective and looking at how we can support our education sector better, and the things that do need to be improved and what will they look like.

"There’s so many pieces of information, there’s lots of pieces to the puzzle, and I think you’ve got to look at all of those pieces before you make your decisions.

"I’d rather be well and truly informed before my decision is made."

NZEI president Liam Rutherford emailed union members, telling them the Principals’ Federation plan "directly threatens" the union's unity and urged them to talk to principals about it.

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