The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey 2015 results released in December last year http://www.principalhealth.org/au/2015_Final_Report.pdf reveals disturbing evidence that far too many of Australia’s schools are struggling to cope with high levels of incivility, Associate Professor Philip Riley writes.
Since 2011, approximately 40% (4388) of Australia’s school leaders from every state and territory and every school sector have taken part in the annual survey. The latest report paints a picture of an Australian education system quite out of balance. The report shows job demands are increasing while resources to help cope with the demands are decreasing. This is a recipe for poor health and that too is confirmed in the study.
Decline in mental health and wellbeing
Despite being well educated, in secure employment, coming from stable backgrounds and in stable families, school leaders score below the average in mental health and experience stress, burnout and sleeping problems at nearly double the population rate.
Clearly something needs to change. The report’s findings probably indicate a much more widespread trend in Australian society that we should be mature enough to address as a nation. Worryingly high prevalence of violence and bullying in schools by adults is antisocial modelling of how to conduct relationships in tense times, for our nation’s children to witness and eventually copy (see figure 1).
The upward five year trend is even more worrying. Adult-adult bullying increased from 4.1-4.3 times higher than the general population; threats of violence (4.9-5.3) and actual violence (increased from 7-8 times higher).
While parents are the main perpetrators, bullying from colleagues and subordinates has also risen from 6.2% and 6.9% in 2011 to 8.2% and 10.5% in 2015 respectively, showing that stress is being distributed widely within and across schools. Anecdotally, teachers also report being bullied by principals. These are signs of a profession overloaded. As a nation, we need to acknowledge these issues so that the process of dealing with the evidence in a mature way can commence.
Volume of work out of control
While it would be easy to only focus on the incivility in schools, which does need serious attention, the job strain is considerable on many fronts, and rapidly increasing. The sheer volume of work for school leaders is putting the greatest strain on them. The increasing volume of work is largely red tape, which explains why a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning is the second highest stressor reported in the study, just behind sheer volume of work. The stress is also affecting their families at rates approximately double the average worker, because partners and family members provide the most support to school leaders, while the least amount comes from Departments of Education and other employer groups. This finding challenges bureaucrats to re-examine the effects of system requirements on principals and teachers.