Red flags multiply for principals over workload stress and violence

Dinoo Kelleghan

Sources of stress include dealing with student mental health issues, resourcing and government initiatives

There needs to be a national conversation to address soaring levels of stress and burnout among school principals and governments should give up quick fixes and work to build trust among those working in education, a major report says.

One in three principals has experienced physical harm, 40 per cent have been threatened with harm, and burnout and stress are far higher than the general population due to sheer quantity of work and lack of time to focus on teaching.

Despite these odds, job satisfaction is twice as much as other people enjoy, according to the 2015 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey report released last week by Teachers Health Fund. It is based on responses from 40 per cent of principals of all schools across the country.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the stressful workloads were clearly linked to under-resourcing of schools and the demands placed on principals and staff.

"We need to continue delivering the full six years of Gonski funding to ensure that schools are funded to a level that principals can provide the educational leadership necessary to meet the needs of their students," Ms Haythorpe said.

It was of "major concern" that fewer than one in 10 principals believed they were being supported by their employer, the AEU Federal President said, adding, "State Education Departments must ensure principals are being given he help they need to do their jobs well."

A key recommendation of the report is that employers reduce job demands or increase resources to cope with increased workloads and work towards building trust in the system as a whole and between those who work in it.

Government should stop looking for short-term quick fixes, the report said.

Examples of sources of stress (stress and burnout are about two and a half times higher than in the general population) include dealing with student mental health issues, resourcing and government initiatives.

The report called for a "national conversation" to address the escalating stress and offensive behaviour facing principals across the country. Most of the threats and bullying (30-40 per cent) comes from parents and most of the actual harm comes from students (77 per cent).

The good news is that job satisfaction twice as high as that of the general population and is increasing, and more principals are taking control of their work-life balance, with a decrease (55-39 per cent) in principals working more than 25 hours per week in school holiday periods from 2011 to 2015.

The report, supported by Teachers Health Fund and all national principals' associations, and conducted by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University, includes responses from 4386 principals from government, Catholic and independent primary and secondary schools over a five-year period.