Principals under pressure

Close to 50% of principals have received threats in their workplaces. This is unacceptable and parents and students must show more restraint when dealing with school principals.

The 2016 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey, sponsored by Teachers Health, has found principals are experiencing overwork, stress, threats and actual physical violence at much higher rates than the general population.

Now in its sixth year, the survey uses a large sample (5000 respondents) from across all school sectors – public and non government – to draw its conclusions.

Report author Associate Professor Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education has found a third of principals are working more than 60 hours a week.

Professor Riley has proposed a similar health and well being survey be carried out for teachers. “I suspect we might get similar results for teachers, but we don’t have the data,” he said. Professor Riley is now seeking funding for this work.

Principals are experiencing workplace demands that are 1.5 times higher than the general population. This makes them subject to higher levels of burnout (1.6 times higher), stress symptoms (1.7 times higher), difficulty sleeping (2.2 times higher), and depressive symptoms (1.3 times higher).

One in three principals has experienced physical violence at school, a figure which is 29% up from the beginning of the survey. Professor Riley said if this trend continues, principals will experiences threats of violence at 10 times the rate of the general population next year.

On the plus side, principals experience more influence at work, feel more commitment and find their work more meaningful than the average person.

Principals reported stress was mainly caused by the “sheer quantity of administrative work” they were required to perform. They complained about suffering additional stress due to the lack of time available to focus on teaching and learning.

Professor Riley said little is being done by private school employers, Catholic education offices or state and territory governments to ease the burden school principals are carrying.

“What every school system in Australia needs to urgently address are the levels of burnout, stress and additional responsibility being loaded onto principals.

“There is a decreasing level of personal support for principals from within the schools they lead and from their employers. That is a major concern.

“Educational employers can help by reducing job demands, or increase resources to cope with increasing demand.”

Look out for a full report in IE magazine, out now.

To access the survey: .