18 Apr 2017

Top principals say they're making a difference

1:56 pm on 18 April 2017

A $50,000 allowance used to attract top principals to struggling schools is starting to pay off, say two of the first principals to get the extra money.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Since 2015, the Education Ministry has approved 25 schools to offer the Principal Recruitment Allowance so they can hire an experienced principal, though not all have used it.

The allowance means a principal of a primary school with less than 100 students, who would normally be paid about $80,000, would be paid as much as one leading a school of 1700, about $130,000.

The Education Ministry said research on the impact of the scheme was expected to start later this year.

However, two principals hired in late 2015 told RNZ News there were already noticeable improvements in their schools.

The principal of Kimi Ora School in Flaxmere, Matt O'Dowda, said the school's roll had jumped from 70 children to 140 and more of them were reaching the national standards in reading, writing and maths.

He said many of the children had made more than a year's progress and improved their achievement against the standards.

Mr O'Dowda said Kimi Ora would never have attracted the experienced principal it needed without the recruitment allowance.

Joanne Hunt at Kamo High School in Whangarei agreed the allowance was useful for getting experienced leaders into small, troubled schools.

But she said the schools themselves needed extra money too, because they often faced staff changes and systems changes that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The job is massive. I desperately want it to work, but we can't just throw money at one person, it's got to be a full package over several years, three, four, five years, to make it happen."

Despite the financial difficulties, Joanne Hunt said the school was improving.

She said there was a 20 percent increase in achievement of NCEA level one last year though a slight drop in level two, and this year was looking even better.

"We're looking at a percentage of achievement this year, all levels being 75 percent or more that are achieving level one, two and three. So we haven't done that in this school for many, many years," she said.

Not all the schools approved to offer the allowance had used it.

The former limited statutory manager of Ngaruawahia High School, Lex Hamill, said it hired an existing staff member as principal because he already understood the school culture and the changes the school was making.

Mr Hamill said under the new principal the roll had leapt from 179 to 270 students, academic achievement was improving and attendance was much better.

"Back in the bad old days we had a 63 percent attendance at the school, it now hovers around 90 percent consistently," he said.

"Our level one and level two results are comparative to other schools of type and decile where they haven't been in the past."

Mr Hamill said the new principal did not get the $50,00 allowance but the option was useful because it helped attract a good pool of quality applicants.

The Education Ministry's deputy secretary of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said it had commissioned the Council for Educational Research to evaluate the scheme.

She said it might take some time for the impact to be clear.

"Every school has its own unique circumstances so the time it takes for improvements to be seen will vary."

Ms Casey said the allowance was not the only help provided to the schools in question, with the ministry meeting the newly-appointed principals and their school's board to discuss other support options.