Whangaparaoa College principal James Thomas is now head of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association – an organisation that he says has the ear of the Ministry of Education.
Members voted James into the President’s role (which is held for two years) last month after he’d been on the executive for a few years.
He says the vast majority of principals in Auckland belong to the association, and that it is in students’ interests for them to be connected in this way.
Regular meetings are held and the association receives up to date information from the heads of other educational organisations, including ERO and NZQA as well as access to high-level discussions with the Ministry.
Among the ‘hot topics’ for discussion at the moment are the new Health and Safety regulations (HM Feb 3), which came into effect this month and give principals personal responsibility and liability for accidents.
The supply of high quality teachers, especially in subjects such as maths, physics and chemistry, is another concern for the principals. James says that with the average age of secondary teachers around 56-57 years, there will be a lot of retirements in five to 10 years.
“We have been charged by the Minister to come up with some recommendations for a sustainable model [for teacher supply] – which at the moment, we don’t have,” he says.
Paying fees for student teachers, who are then bonded for a period, may be one of the suggestions put forward.
James says that the provision and funding of special education services is another issue, together with truancy services. Until a few years ago, Coast Youth Community Trust had the contract for local truancy services, but it is now centralised and run through an office in West Auckland.
James says that the Government’s Secretary for Education, Peter Hughes, listens to principals and understands the importance of their feedback and concerns.
Auckland principals are dealing with tremendous population growth, which affects their zones; diversity among pupils and increasing transience among families. They share concerns with other principals nationally about the decile system, which James describes as “a blunt instrument”.
“The decile system is up for review over the next few years and the Association will be involved in that,” James says.