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Post date: Wednesday, 8 November 2023

What do principals say are the biggest issues facing secondary schools?

By Mohamed Alansari

Supporting vulnerable students, having too much asked of their school and recruiting quality teachers are among the biggest issues facing secondary schools in Aotearoa, new NZCER research has found.  

The findings come from the latest National Survey of Secondary Schools report, which focuses on principal perspectives of everything from supporting Māori and Pacific students to curriculum and working experiences.  

This survey, which has run since 2003, took responses from 141 principals at English-medium secondary schools – 41% of all such schools in 2022. While the sample size is smaller than in 2018, this is still a representative view of the current pressures on secondary schools. 

Principals were given a list of the top 10 issues facing schools from the 2018 report, alongside a number of more recent issues, and could select as many as applied to their school. For 2022, the most prominent issues among respondents were:  

  • Providing support for vulnerable students (e.g., wellbeing or mental health needs) - 80% 
  • Too much being asked of schools – 76% 
  • Recruiting quality teachers – 71% 
  • Hard to keep up with the pace of change in curriculum and NCEA – 71%* 
  • Accessing specialist support for students with learning needs – 64%* 
  • Funding – 56%  
  • Dealing with inappropriate use of technology – 53% 
  • Re-engaging students who have not come back to school post-COVID-19 lockdowns – 49%* 
  • Property maintenance or development – 44% 
  • Timetabling to support a growing range of student learning opportunities – 42% 
  • Cost of maintenance and replacement of digital technology – 40% 
  • Staffing levels / class sizes – 38% 
  • Low student attendance – 38%* 
  • Parent and whānau engagement – 24% 
  • Managing the new equity index funding system – 18%* 

Items introduced in the 2022 survey are noted with an asterisk.  

What has changed since 2018?  

Compared to the 2018 National Survey of Secondary Schools, there are severable notable changes in these priorities.   

Principal concerns about support for vulnerable students, now identified by 80% of principals, was noted by 66% in 2018. Similarly, only 61% of principals said the amount being asked of their school ranked highly in 2018 – this has now risen to 76%. There was a much smaller increase – 5 percentage points - in the number of principals saying that dealing with inappropriate use of technology was a pressing issue, with just over half identifying this.  

Conversely, several issues were less of a priority than in 2018. The biggest decrease was parent and whānau engagement (down to 24% from 41% in 2018), indicating principals feel this now less of an issue for their schools. The next largest drop was the cost of maintenance and replacement of digital technology, going down 15 percentage points. There were smaller decreases (under 10 percentage points) in the number of principals concerned about funding, property maintenance or development, timetabling, and staffing levels or class sizes.  

Recruiting quality teachers was the most consistently indicated concern of principals between the two surveys, with 71% highlighting it last year compared to 73% in 2018.  

As a representative sample, this provides a useful window into principal perspectives on the challenges facing secondary education in Aotearoa. You can find much more in the full National Survey of Secondary Schools, including detail on how: 

  • 73% of principals prefer the new Equity Index system to the decile system  
  • Only 9% of principals say their workload is manageable  
  • Principals broadly do not support the ongoing NCEA changes  

You will find the full report and executive summary here.  


Does a similar survey run for principals in kura kaupapa Māori? I wondered whether they preferred the Equity Index too. Or will we continue to compare apples with oranges?

I appreciate the initiatives and advancements in this beautiful country. But an idea in my mind after reading this blog , there are many qualified teachers as immigrants in this country are unable to work in the schools due to some essential requirements. Every country has its own pace of obtaining a degree and working in schools, but unfortunately I came across many of the teachers from other countries who are here are working in retail sector or at some other places who had extensive experience in teaching. Arrange a minimum training period to nurture them as per New Zealand Curriculum and placing them in schools will decrease teacher shortage as well as assisting vulnerable students will be addressed. An initiative from the government to utilise the services of experienced teachers under certain immigration rules till they attain IQA and teacher registration may solve this . Yours sincerely.

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