Pat Ross is a principal with a difference. Over the past 20 years she’s worked as a relief principal at primary schools all over the top half of the North Island. She’s placed wherever and whenever she is needed, sometimes in schools that are struggling to find someone between principals, sometimes to cover a long-term absence, and sometimes because of governance or industrial issues. Pat Ross is an ESS principal.

What is ESS?

The Emergency Staffing Scheme (ESS) is funded by the Ministry of Education and administered by the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA). The scheme selects from a national pool of up to 30 experienced teachers able to undertake a senior management role to provide schools with emergency short-term services where the board is unable to fill a vacancy arising outside the board’s control.

The Ministry is emphatic that ESS pool members are not “change agents”, nor are they available to resolve possible conflicts between the community and the board. They are essentially there to fill last resort vacancies.

Thus, ESS differs from the Principal Recruitment Allowance (PRA), which has been introduced as part of the Investing in Educational Success initiative to enable high-need schools and kura to attract highly effective principals to a principal vacancy. The principal recruited to these schools is expected to provide the leadership needed to improve a school’s student achievement.

ESS pool members are paid a retainer of $6,000 a year as well as an additional $500 per term for distance placements – when a school is 100 kilometres or more from the pool member’s normal place of residence.

Which schools are using ESS?

On average, six to seven schools per term have an ESS relief principal in place. Some of these schools may need support for more than one term. Catherine Bates, ESS national coordinator for NZSTA, says requests for support have been higher than usual this year, with 11 schools requiring ESS for term 1. Things are shaping up to be much the same for term 2. One school placement has recruited a new principal, leaving 10 schools that will continue to use ESS for term 2. In addition to these schools, Bates has also received six tentative enquiries for term 2, however not all enquiries lead to a placement, as some schools are able to find local relievers in the end.

Schools seek ESS help for a variety of reasons. Bates says a school may need cover for the period of time between one principal resigning and the newly recruited principal starting at the school, or a principal is on long-term leave (due to an illness, for example). Another reason to seek out ESS support is if the school is experiencing industrial
difficulties and an external principal is needed to cover the role.

“It is predominantly small primary schools who access this service as they do not have a management structure to support staff acting up into a principal role the same way that larger schools do. Schools have to look at options for staff to act up into the principal role first. “Smaller schools may only have one full-time principal and a part-time teacher who provides principal release time. Secondary schools often have a larger number of students, which supports a larger staff structure, therefore more options for a staff member to act up into the role.”

Bates says location can sometimes play a part, too.

“Some of the more isolated schools find it difficult to find local relievers due to the school being isolated.”

The ESS principals

Bates says ESS provides vital support to schools that, through a change in circumstances, are left in a position where they may not have a principal to run the school.
“ESS principals are very experienced principals who are able to bring stability and calm through their experience as leaders and educationalists to sometimes very unsettled situations. “Imagine a school where a principal has become very unwell; the school students, staff and community may be feeling upset for the principal as well as unsettled about what will happen to the students and school. This can be especially difficult for small schools who work and live in a very close, isolated community.” Bates says the initial query regarding ESS is often from a board chair who is quite stressed and not sure how they are going to manage this situation.

“The sense of relief for them when they discover there are options to help them can be immense.” Bates says there is ongoing difficulty in recruiting ESS principals. This is largely because principals are sometimes going into difficult situations where students, staff and communities have been experiencing uncertainty.

“ESS principals need to be prepared to work away from home for up to 10 weeks. This can be extended for a second, and sometimes on the odd occasion a third, term.”

Explaining ESS

The Emergency Staffing Scheme (ESS) is funded by the Ministry of Education and administered by NZSTA. A national pool of up to 30 experienced, trained and registered teachers able to undertake a senior management role is maintained to provide state and state integrated schools with emergency short-term services where the board is unable to fill a vacancy arising outside the board’s control.

ESS pool members:

  • must be a registered teacher and have a recent, quality teaching and principal background ƒƒ
  • are available at short notice, within 24 hours or within a maximum five-day period
  • ƒƒ enter into an employment relationship with a board of trustees normally undertake a period of engagement of up to 10 weeks
  • ƒƒwill be required to travel outside their area and be prepared to work in isolated rural schoolsƒƒ
  • must be prepared to work as a teaching principalƒƒ are contracted on a retainer to NZSTA for a fixed-term for one year.

Criteria for schools to access the scheme:

  • An acting appointment from within the school is impossible or impracticable
  • The board has made every effort to obtain a relief principal to cover the vacancy, including utilising local and regional resources
  • ƒSupport is required for 10 school weeks orfewer
  • The emergency has arisen from a situationoutside of the board’s control
  • ƒ The relief position is for a minimum of fivedays.

Steps schools need to take:

  • Boards needing ESS assistance and who meet the qualifying criteria should contact the ESS national coordinator
  • The ESS national coordinator will seek approval from the manager, services delivery, in National Office
  • Following approval, the ESS national coordinator will locate an available ESS pool member and ask them to liaise directly with the board.

Schools meeting the criteria for an ESS placement should contact the NZSTA.

Meet Pat

Pat Ross became an ESS principal in 1995. The threeteacher school at which she had been a teaching principal for five years was running well and she decided she was ready for a new challenge.

Ross has only been placed in primary schools, ranging from deciles 1 to 10. They have been scattered from Kaitaia to Taihape and between East Cape and the Kawhia Harbour. Her placements have ranged from three weeks to 12 months, and have been for a whole range of reasons.

Ross says she has become quite adept at seeing the big picture at a school in a short space of time.

“First priority is always the children and I like to get to know the children as soon as possible – usually by teaching from day one. I have to be objective and although I am forthright with BOTs and staff I do like to be very collaborative, which facilitates problem solving.” She maintains an open door policy and encourages community involvement and two-way communication.

“I have found some schools where the parents and caregivers have felt excluded,” she says. Ross says an extensive underpinning knowledge of The New Zealand Curriculum is crucial for an ESS principal, as they are often required to teach from year 1 to year 8 – often sole charge/multilevel.

“You also have to be impartial and professional, especially when you go into volatile situations with split communities.”

Ross says it can be challenging being placed in a school where there is no collaboration or shared goals between principal, the board, the staff, the children, the parents or the community. She says “cut-and-paste charters” do not give a true reflection of the school and children’s needs.

She finds it astonishing that, 16 years into Tomorrow’s Schools, some school boards are still working on housekeeping/property issues, with little focus on children’s progress.

“I like to help with this alongside NZSTA and other advisors to put systems in place so BOTs are more aware of their responsibilities and empowered to take more ownership of the children’s needs and progress.”

There is often a lot to do, but little time to do it in. Ross says good time management is crucial. “As I live away from my family during the term I can give this time to the school.”

Ross says it is difficult, especially in isolated sole charge schools, for ESS principals to find access to relevant professional development, and to ensure they are annually appraised against teacher standards. She also feels ESS principals should have the same entitlement to Career Steps as other principals. Moreover, Ross loves her job and enjoys making
a positive difference.

“Every school has been rewarding in some way or other,” she says.

She enjoys meeting new people in the school communities, learning new aspects of teaching and administration, teaching a wide range of children, living in different parts of the country, participating in a variety of communities, and seeing children progress academically, socially and on the sporting field.

Meet Bruce

Bruce Dale is a newer addition to ESS, having joined as an ESS principal in June last year. Despite some initial reservations about how he would cope with a variety of situations he hadn’t encountered before, like Pat Ross, he has found the experience to be rewarding so far. Dale has been placed in three schools so far, all of them decile 1; one remote, one rural, and one urban. Two have been primary schools, and the third an area school. His placements have been for different reasons each time.

Dale says it can be challenging confronting a completely new environment and adjusting to new systems, while trying to address often longstanding issues.

“All schools have been welcoming but each school has been very different and you need to step back, listen and learn before making key decisions. People-management skills are important.”

Given the placements can be in far-flung locations, Dale says it can also be a challenge staying away from his usual place of residence. However, he is quick to highlight the positive aspects of being an ESS principal, too. He says the role has given him the opportunity to learn new things and gain different experiences, such as working in a Māori school with both Rūmaki Reo (total immersion) and bilingual classes.

“I’ve learned that each context is different and requires thoughtful input and approaches; that the people in the schools are important and want the best for their particular school and students.”

An invaluable service

The scheme is working well. Marian Galvin was the board of trustees’ chairperson for a school that needed an ESS principal to cover the principal’s long-term absence (sick leave).
“The ESS principal was able to step in and just take over, it was a great relief. We also had the issue of an acting deputy principal who was trying to step up and do both roles, which is why the scheme was great for the whole school,” says Galvin. “It settled everything down so the children and teachers could get on with their learning and teaching.”

She describes the service provided by Catherine Bates as “fantastic” and her advice to other boards in the same boat is not to hesitate to get in touch.

“Don’t be afraid to contact the ESS staff, they are there to help. There was never a feeling of being treated as if you couldn’t cope, or didn’t know what you were doing – they  ere very professional and reassuring.”

Galvin’s positive experience is echoed by many others. Bates shares with me some feedback obtained through effectiveness reports from schools, pertaining to principals. One school reports that the ESS principal “has been a godsend to our school”. “I truly wish he could stay forever,” the report goes on to say. “His knowledge of how a school should function has been invaluable; he is an amazing person and has worked tirelessly to help out our school. He has been exceptional in his role.” Another reported that the ESS principal had “great vision, was able to step in and keep the school moving along and working well… She has her feet firmly on the ground and is very caring about the children. She wasn’t fazed by difficult parents and board members.”

Another declared the ESS principal as “instrumental in turning our school around, both financially and raising the student achievement levels significantly and improving the overall
demeanor of the children”. And so this service, that tends to fly under the radar, continues to make a big difference to schools during their hour of need.

New online recruitment service

NZSTA is offering a new web-based recruitment management system that can help school boards of trustees with recruitment if that is the reason they need emergency staffing.

The free system covers the entire recruitment process from advertising to vetting to appointing and induction, while at the same time creating apool of candidates for future recruitment.

The system, which provides integration with the Education Gazette, SEEK, police vetting and the New Zealand Teachers Council, is designed to match prescribed recruitment steps and meet the recommendations of the ERO report Student Safety in Schools: Recruiting and Managing Staff, along with the recently passed Vulnerable Children Act 2014. It will eventually provide integration with RealMe for identity verification, as well.

The recruitment management system not only supports schools with the ability to process and manage applications, but also gives applicants the ability to apply and receive alerts on future vacancies in schools


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