Northland’s school leaders fear a lack of experience will impact on student learning after 80 principals resigned in six years.
Twenty Northland principals - 13 from primary schools and seven from secondary schools - resigned in 2023.
Education leaders say reasons varied but included an ageing teaching population, burnout among younger principals and increased government policies.
The Ministry of Education said it offers plenty of support to principals such as leadership advisers and learning support.
But education leaders say the support offered is not enough to retain them.
New Zealand Principals Federation president Leanne Otene said Tai Tokerau has “always struggled” to retain and attract principals.
Kāeo Primary School principal Paul Barker said one reason principals were leaving was because times had changed and principals on the cusp of retirement have had enough.
“When you’re already confronted with a massive workload from dawn ‘till dusk, from toilet rolls to maths, the last thing you need is yet another bit of change, especially when the change isn’t something you believe in.”
Changes from new education policies were not based on a foundation of research or educational ideaology, he said, which did not benefit schools.
Nearly half of new principals in their first or second year intended to leave the role within five years, NZEI Te Riu Roa revealed last year.
Principals leaving within five years allows no time for relationships and trust to be built with teachers, students and whānau, Barker said.
He described how younger principals “run around” trying to achieve everything, often leading to burnout.
The impact of principals leaving hits the community they serve and principals’ careers, he said.
“People will always step up to the job. It’s a promotion, it’s better pay, but what’s happening is that people are leaving quickly, and it’s ruining their careers.”
According to Barker, research has shown the importance of strong leadership and experience in an education setting reflected on academic achievement.
Otene said principals often use Northland’s many rural schools as a stepping stone.
“There’s really no incentive to remain in a school rural school. As well as a teaching load, some can’t even afford an office manager or a caretaker.
“The job is quite frankly too big,” she said.
New Zealand Principals Federation president Leanne Otene. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Otene said rural principals found themselves isolated as access to support was not available.
“We want consistency and if we’re going to have consistency we need to value the position of a rural principal,” she said.
Otene said attracting the right people into the profession is hugely important.
“We need to have a framework and we need to have the support at every point from aspiring right through to experienced.”
Anna Welanyk, hautū (leader) Education Workforce for the Ministry of Education said her team works with the sector to understand what supports can be provided that are valued by them.
Schools had been enthusiastic about leadership advisers which were an example of the support provided by the ministry, she said.
Welanyk said as part of settlements reached during collective bargaining in 2023, improved pay and conditions may encourage more into the profession.
Brodie Stone is the education and general news reporter at the Advocate. Brodie has spent most of her life in Whangārei and is passionate about delving into issues that matter to Northlanders and beyond.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you