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Principals under ‘impossible’ stress

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School principals are working longer and under more dangerous conditions than ever before, according to a new Australian Catholic University survey.

Australia’s school principals are drowning in work requiring long hours that make a healthy lifestyle “impossible to maintain” according to a new survey.

Results released today from the Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2018 reveal that many principals are stressed and depressed, with more than half being threatened with violence and one in three physically attacked at work.

A summary of the severe workplace stresses faced by many principals across the country. IMAGE: ACU

Just over 2000 principals, assistant principals and deputies from public, independent and Catholic school sectors from across the country took part in the annual survey conducted by the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

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The survey now in its eighth year found that principals are working an average of 60 hours a week and 24 per cent up to 65 hours each week. Principals reported the two biggest sources of stress were the sheer quantity of work and a lack of time to focus on students’ teaching and learning.

Chief investigator ACU’s Associate Professor Philip Riley, a psychologist and former school principal, said that the findings are becoming worse each year in a “continuous downhill slide” with principals feeling unable to do their job the way they feel they should.

A lack of trust in principals’ ability to make good decisions on behalf of their school communities is adding to the burden on school leaders and teachers, says the ACU report released today.

He said the most worrying findings were the continued increase in working hours, and an uptick both in the number of principals reporting stress about the mental health issues of students and staff, and in the levels of offensive behaviour including violence towards principals.

There has also been a big jump in teacher shortages as a stressor for principals, Prof Riley told The Catholic Weekly.

“I would say that the job is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers and school principals and there is a lot of bad press about teachers,” he said. “It’s very easy to blame teachers when something goes wrong, and people are looking at that and saying, why would I want to put myself in that kind of environment?”

Prof Riley said principals need much more support in their roles and for their judgment to be trusted.

ACU’s Associate Professor Philip Riley. PHOTO: Chris Hopkins

See related article: New schools boss Tony Farley tells teachers exciting changes await

“Part of the reason there is too much work to do is that as trust has disappeared from the system it is being replaced by multiple accountability measures and that creates a whole lot of work for principals,” he said.

All three education sectors exist under the same legal framework requiring compliance work “that can be very burdensome”, he added.

Education also needed to also be depoliticised as it is far too important to be left to party politics, he said.

“We need people with long term views who are considering education for future generations, not just winning the next election.”

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