The Albertan experience: The industrial landscape
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 5, 8 July 2022, page no.21
In this, our second article on the education system in the Canadian province of Alberta, we outline the industrial landscape that schools and unions are navigating, including provincial legislative changes that are removing principals from unions, among other things.
Removal of principals from unions
Currently, all Albertan teachers and school leaders must be part of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. However, when talking to principals from several other provinces, it was concerning to learn that principals and vice principals have been legislatively stopped from being in the union. While for at least one province this occurred more than 30 years ago, a number of other provinces have implemented similar legislation in recent years, and there are real concerns that all provinces will eventually follow suit.
Anecdotally, we were told when one province made the legislative changes, principals indicated they would like to stay with their union, and they were told they could do so, but only if they resigned from their role of principal. While “principal councils” have been set up to represent these school leaderships, these are the equivalent of our principal associations and have no industrial role.
The QTU believes that this model can only lead to a much more adversarial relationship between teachers and principals and deputy principals. The QTU has always had a very strong belief that we are stronger with both school leaders and teachers together in the one Union, enabling us to argue for better salaries and working conditions for all.
School leaders in Calgary and at the uLead Conference showed considerable interest in the relationship the QTU has with its school leader members, and in the QTU’s role of the Assistant Secretary – Education Leaders.
District Principals’ Conference
During our time in Alberta, the Calgary Catholic School District* hosted the Queensland delegation at the first District Principals’ Conference in two years.
It was interesting that staff and student wellbeing and welfare were recurring topics, as students were being re-integrated physically onto school sites after numerous lengthy lockdowns. The district, under the leadership of the chief superintendent, has adopted a mantra of “simplification”. One of the outcomes of our partnership is that the district has adopted Palm Beach Currumbin State High School’s annual implementation plan as a template for reducing a 17 to 20-page annual planning document to a one-page plan.
Here are some of the things we took away after speaking with our colleagues in Calgary.
- While Queensland schools have a great deal more autonomy and flexibility than Alberta, we have a lot more accountability and less system support.
- As a large oil producing province, Alberta's education budget is directly linked to the price of oil and it can therefore vary greatly each year. No Alberta educator has received a pay rise in nine years, which contrasts greatly with the increases that have occurred in Queensland.
- Class sizes in Alberta secondary schools can reach as high as 38 in some subjects.
- The workload of Queensland school leaders is comparatively more onerous, often detracting from instructional leadership opportunities. Support from the district enables Alberta principals to spend much more time being instructional leaders and being present for staff and students.
- Staff wellbeing, attraction and retention is a global issue
- Student wellbeing and mental health is (or needs to be) core business.
*As explained in the first article, in Alberta the provincial government administers both the public and Catholic school districts and parents can chose to send their children to the local public or Catholic school (both options are fee free).