Andrew’s first teaching position was as a science and maths teacher at a small rural school, where the town itself only had 150 residents. It was an excellent setting for a new teacher to learn the ropes, and he walked away having learned a valuable lesson, something he hadn’t been prepared for during his years of university training: “I had assumed that all students would know the knowledge taught to them in the previous year, but discovered that they often did not.”
Learning not to make assumptions was just one of the lessons Andrew learned over the four decades he has spent as a teacher, valuable knowledge as he stepped up into the role of Principal and later as the president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association.
“The challenges the sector is now facing are widespread,” he reflects. “The accountability on teachers to perform and lift student results is extreme, while the use of technology is expected in all teaching areas as well as the use of data-informed practice. Students have also changed in line with community expectations, there is a significant non-appreciation now in students that is generated by the community, this is very disappointing as education opens doors.”
But change is not something to be feared, Andrew believes. He has previously said that “you cannot be the same, act the same and stay the same when the world around you is changing. Change has always been a constant companion of education and life, however over the last couple of years with the shadow of COVID, the notion of change now is very different. We must embrace change and use it to our advantage.”
Having spent time as a teacher, principal, deputy principal and head of department in rural and indigenous communities as well as large metropolitan schools, Andrew has seen the changes in the sector from a broad range of educational and community settings. He has used his experience to ensure that when policy decisions were made, he spoke for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds as well as the educators who represent them.
ASPA Vice President Mark Breckenridge said: “From leading complex school communities as a principal, his commitment to the Queensland Secondary Principals Association, and ensuring ASPA had a seat at the table when policy decisions impacting principals were made – he has been a tireless advocate for public secondary school leaders.”
The move to being principal
The decision to make the move from teacher to principal is one that many educators ponder over their career, and the reasons for the move can be wide-ranging. For Andrew Pierpoint, it came down to reach.
“I became a principal because, deep down, I knew I could positively effect – for the better – students’ lives, and perhaps their families too. A key lesson I learned as a principal is that you will never know the extent of your reach and influence and a wise principal knows how to utilize this influence to take the school forward.”
Knowing his reach could be further extended, in 2014 he was elected president of the Queensland Secondary Principal’s Association and four years later, took on a national role as president of the Australian association.
It’s a decision that has paid off, and he now leaves behind a legacy including leadership awards from Principals Australia, ACEL and QSPA, being the NiETA teacher of the year, a lifetime of achievement with Queensland School Sport, as well as the DG’s Citation for Community Leadership after the Lockyer Floods.
A system in flux
However, finding suitable candidates to take on the role of principal is fast becoming one of the issues that the sector is dealing with. The well-publicised teacher shortage crisis not only has obvious short-term impacts on the current student population, but also has longer-term implications for the future of the sector in general, as less talented and enthusiastic teachers now means fewer talented and enthusiastic educators lining up to become principals in coming years.
Research from the long-running Australian Principal Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey has shown that on average, principals are putting in at least 55 hours per week, with one in five working twelve-hour days.
“Burnout and availability are clearly linked [and] the system must take responsibility,” Andrew says.
To help find solutions, during his six years as president of ASPA, Andrew has worked most recently as a committee member of the group tasked with developing the National Action Plan in response to the ongoing teacher shortage crisis.
As president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, he also joined with the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) to create the Coalition of Australian Principals. Representing principals from all sectors, including government, independent, Catholic, special education and ATSI schools, the Coalition is a unified attempt to amplify principals’ voices and address some of the issues facing members.
When asked what changes he would personally like to see introduced to all schools he responded: A change to the staffing ratio – with more staff to complete the myriad tasks that are now expected of schools, and with the responsibility for these tasks falling to all staff in the school, both teachers and admin. This would reduce the stress, burnout and attractiveness of teaching greatly.”