Best advice for school leaders – be involved in the QTU!

As a school leader for more than fifteen years and a teachers’ union activist for all of that time, the most rewarding and beneficial aspect of being a part of the union … is being a part of the union!

Like most school leaders, I like to have influence over the way in which departmental initiatives and processes are implemented in schools. Undoubtedly, the most effective mechanism for doing that is to be able to discuss with and influence the organisation that ultimately negotiates with the education bureaucracy, the Queensland Teachers’ Union. On the basis of school leader (and teacher input), the QTU has played a significant role in the development and negotiation of education policy, curriculum implementation, initiatives and processes, as well as representing school leaders on Queensland Studies Authority and Queensland College of Teachers. Only the QTU can provide industrial representation for school leaders, securing everything from the creation of new roles (eg. executive principal) through to enhanced differential salary increases in enterprise bargaining.

While all members of the Union are able to contribute to QTU decision-making and actions, there is a particular recognition of the significance of school leaders, and so there are a range of mechanisms by which the QTU ensures it is cognisant of the views of school leaders. These include the Union’s Education Leaders’ Committee, Small Schools Special Interest Group, Principal Union Representatives, principal forums, school leaders’ summits, Education Leaders Conference and regularly interacting with principals’ professional associations.

It is no surprise to any employee of the Department of Education, Training and Employment, that there are invariably a range of necessary, and sometimes complex, procedures and processes, from those involving safety, such as asbestos procedures, to supervisory ones, including managing unsatisfactory performance. Two important advantages school leader Union members gain are:

  • assistance to ensure processes are run correctly and fairly for all involved (even when it may involve disputation between a school leader and teacher)
  • a school culture of common shared interest that comes from being a member of a union with teachers, particularly around campaigning on issues such as enterprise bargaining.

One area of critical importance to the future of our public education system is the calibre of future leaders, and the QTU has played a very significant role in the development and implementation of the processes for selecting school leaders. It is in all our interests to ensure we have the most meritorious candidates selected under fair processes to school leadership positions, and that is why the QTU is so passionate about ensuring the integrity of this critical area. The QTU has had extensive involvement in ensuring effective recruitment and selection processes. Even in recent times, with some attempt to ‘marginalise’ the Union in these processes,the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) has recently told the Department of Education, Training and Employment that any changes to the principal recruitment and selection/relocation process must be negotiated with QTU. This involvement will become even more important with moves towards more precarious employment (contracts) and threats to the relocation system.

Finally, the group of school employees that are most at risk of litigation are school leaders. The Queensland Teachers’ Union gives a high priority to giving its school leader members the best possible legal protection and assistance. Any objective scrutiny of models of legal protection available to school leaders would show that the QTU legal assistance scheme remains by far the best available. Of course, the QTU also provides significant assistance to avoid issues reaching the litigation stage, through a range of relevant and experienced QTU officers who support school leaders in matters dealing with investigations, disciplinary processes, managing unsatisfactory performance, relocations and any other issues with which principal members may need support and help when dealing with the department.

I have had the reassurance and reward as a school leader of being involved in all the above, and together with the networking opportunities and camaraderie with other principals and Union members, it is why I continue to be a strong and proud advocate for school leaders being an essential part of our Queensland Teachers’ Union.

 December 2013

Allan Cook is Principal of Isis District State High School, Childers. He has been a member of QTU State Council for more than 15 years and a member of the Union’s Education Leaders Committee for more than 10 years. Mr Cook has also served on the Federal Executive of the Australian Education Union. He is currently a Trustee of the QTU.