Principals more stressed than ever

A worrying trend of increasing stress, workload and verbal and physical assaults faced by school principals has been revealed in the seventh annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey.

The 2017 report, carried out by the Australian Catholic University, found principals experience stress at a rate 1.7 times higher than the general population.

They experience burnout 1.6 times higher, depressive symptoms 1.3 times higher and problems sleeping 2.2 times higher than the general population.

Forty-four per cent of principals reported receiving verbal threats of violence, predominantly from parents and students; 34% reported being victims of bullying (by parents predominantly) and 36% reported being the victims of physical violence (by students predominantly).

These statistics are up on the 2016 report. Since its inception in 2011, 5580 principals from all school sectors have participated.

This worrying culture of abuse affecting principals is a whole school problem.

IEU uses the findings of this survey to advocate for principals with employers and policy makers.

The Union has a dedicated Principals convenor, Pam Smith, and runs a Principals Sub Branch where principals can meet to share their concerns and advocate for themselves.

IEU Secretary John Quessy said that while undertaking a similar survey among teachers and support staff would be logistically difficult, the findings were likely to be similar.

“Those abusive parents and students would most likely have been encountered by a member of the support staff and/or a teacher before they reach the principal,” John said.

“This worrying culture of abuse and stress affecting principals is a whole school problem.”

The survey also found principals are working more and more hours, with 53% reporting working more than 56 hours a week, and 27% working more than 61 hours a week.

Principals cited the sheer quantity of work expected of them as their greatest stress. A lack of time to focus on teaching and learning came a close second.

On the positive side, the survey shows principals are committed and passionate despite their working conditions.

Ninety per cent reported being passionate about their work, and they have significantly higher job satisfaction than the general population.

The report puts forward 15 recommendations aimed at government, employers, community, schools, individuals and researchers. They are unchanged from the 2016 recommendations.

Key recommendations include:

governments should abandon short term educational fixes and concentrate on collaboration, creativity, trust based responsibility, professionalism and equity

employers must reduce job demands and increase resources available to principals to perform their jobs

unions and professional associations should coordinate and speak with one voice to harness the influence of their collective members

the community must stop offensive behaviour as it permeates schools and all front line professions, and community members should support their local schools in any way possible, and

educators should take responsibility for finding a healthy work/life balance.

The full report is available at

Parts of this article first appeared in The Conversation: