Should primary school principals be paid more?

by Brett Henebery06 Mar 2017

The changing nature of education means the task of heading a primary school is becoming more complex – so should primary principals be paid just as much as their secondary school counterparts?

While this question has caused some protracted discussions, one school sector recently came together to find a solution to this issue – by agreeing that principals in both primary and secondary schools should be paid the same.

The new Principals Enterprise agreement, which was announced on Thursday by the Catholic Commission of Employment Relations (CCER) applies to 422 principals across NSW and the ACT.

CCER executive director, Tony Farley, told The Educator this “historical disparity” in pay between primary and secondary school heads has existed in all education systems and should be addressed to recognise the changing nature of education.

“If you think about what’s happened in education, such as the ideas of lifelong learning, and of access to university education at any time, these things have really changed our perception of what education is and when it happens,” he said.

“So the idea that it is purely between the ages of 5-18 at school is no longer the case, and I think more people are coming to recognise this.”

Farley said the justification for higher pay for secondary principals was largely to do with the belief that the older the child, the more complex the education is.

“However, this view does not take into account just how significant those early years are in terms of laying the foundation for learning not just for school but beyond it,” he said.

NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president, Chris Presland, said that while equal pay already exists in NSW, there are many who would argue that running a high school is far more complex than a primary school.

“The basic leadership functions are the same, and expectations of pedagogical knowledge are the same. Having said that, the management of a high school site is generally much more complex,” Presland told The Educator.

He said this was due to the number of specialty buildings, such as science labs, wood tech, kitchens and other facilities which require secondary principals to oversee convoluted Occupational Work Health & Safety (OH&S) responsibilities.

“Management of curriculum structures, management of timetables and consequently staffing are also much more complex. Generally high schools have more students and as result many more staff,” he said.

But there are also a range of complexities for primary principals that need to be taken into account when determining what they should be paid, says Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) president, Dennis Yarrington.

He pointed out that while principals’ enterprise agreements vary from state to state, there needs to be recognition that many primary principals now have more responsibilities than they used to.

“While it’s fine to base the pay on student numbers, teachers and budget, there is no inclusion for the complexity of the role. A lot of primary schools now have a preschool or an early childhood centre that they have to manage,” he said.

Yarrington pointed out that pay based on student numbers or school budget has been the formula most commonly used, but due to class sizes, primary schools will also be less staffed, leading to reduced budgets and less pay for the principal.

“For example, you could have a high school of 400 kids and a primary school of 800, and the primary school principal will be paid just the same of even less,” he said.

Yarrington added that due to growing primary school enrolments, the size of the school outgrows the pay scale for principals, meaning that after a certain number of students, there is no change to the pay rate.

“Therefore, this can be a disincentive for principals. In addition, a secondary school with a small enrolment could have a principal earning more than a counterpart in a similar size primary, purely based on school budget,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should primary school principals be paid more money?


  • by Special Education 6/03/2017 2:41:11 PM

    Well I simply don't know where to begin?

    Chris Presland states that "Generally high schools have more students and as result many more staff". He fails to mention that those secondary staff allocations include supplementations that primary, and special schools (which have a k-12 enrolment and are still staffed on primary formulas) don't get.

    Executive positions in primary and special schools have RFF (release from face to face) of .042 (2 hours per week) and the same-pay executive in a high school gets 0.2 (6 hours per week -triple that of their primary equivalent) or 0.5 if you count deputy principals. Also high schools have sufficient additional supplementation to offer relief to staff such as sports organiser, computer coordinator, year advisers etc. They also qualify for the Small School Supplementation of up to 3.5 FTE additional staff allocation (schools up to 350 enrolment). This is not available to primary schools.

    Obviously my special needs primary and secondary students don't need these positions as we don't attract this allocation. As Dennis Yarrington states "there is no inclusion for the complexity of the role". As a special education principal I can more than adequately describe my definition of complexity if requested. My final question is, does the number of students and staff mean that you get quality leadership. If you have 1500 students does that mean the school has the best principal and the school with 30 students has the worst? It beggars belief!

  • by Another astounding special educator 6/03/2017 4:00:09 PM

    I listened to a visiting Canadian principal some years ago (7-8). From memory the system at the time in Canada was that there were different pay scales for principals but they were not based on the complexity of the school or size but their years of service and qualifications. There were only 3-4 levels. What I found amazing was that principals were moved around to a different school every 3 years. You were moved to a school that needed your particular skills, talents and knowledge at that time. You were a sort of generic principal who could be placed in a primary or high school. So the role demanded a large skill-set. It would certainly do away with this particular argument about size versus complexity

  • by Michelle Wilson 7/03/2017 6:05:59 PM

    The complexity, leadership and professional capabilities are the same for primary and secondary principals.
    In my experience and based on SRP the funding model, secondary students are funded more per head and they are provided with more resources and facilities. Primary principals are doing more with less, while supporting families and catering for children when they experience the most growth and development.
    School size, level of qualifications, experiences and SFO should all be taken into account when reviewing salaries fro school leaders.