February 21, 2018

Bullying, threats and violence: report details the difficult job of a principal.

Principals report the stress of an overwhelming workload as the stress that contributes most to diminishing health and wellbeing.

Scott Imig, University of Newcastle

Today, the annual report on Australia’s school principals’ health and well-being was released. The findings should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers, parents of school-aged children and the population in general.


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The study has been conducted by researchers at Australian Catholic University every year since 2011. Over that time, 5,580 school leaders have participated in the survey.


Read more:
Bullies, threats and violence: who would want to be a school principal?


This year’s findings continue a worrying trend of principals facing increasing physical and verbal abuse, an overwhelming workload, great stress and inadequate support. Fortunately, the survey also makes clear our school leaders possess a work ethic, commitment and passion that defies the conditions in which they work.

Principals are more stressed than ever

The researchers report principals experience stress at a rate 1.7 times higher than the general population. They experience professional burnout (the degree of mental and physical fatigue/exhaustion of an employee) 1.6 times higher, depressive symptoms 1.3 times higher and problems sleeping 2.2 times higher. In fact, more than one in five principals surveyed earned significantly low scores on quality of life indicators. These are based on work, cognitive and emotional demands as well as violence and conflicts.

The findings indicate principals are working more and more hours, with 53% reporting working more than 56 hours a week, and 27% working upwards of 61 hours a week.

Principals cite 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.



In this era of increasing accountability (see our public focus on performance) and greater administrator responsibilities (see NSW’s Local Schools, Local Decisions initiative), these worries are perhaps to be expected.

What is unexpected, and intolerable, is the stress principals report from experiencing bullying, abuse and assault. In this year’s survey, a staggering 44% of principals reported receiving verbal threats of violence (predominantly from parents and students), 34% reported being victims of bullying (with parents the most common bullies), and 36% reported being victims of physical violence (primarily at the hands of students). Disturbingly, each of these statistics has seen an uptick this year.



Improving conditions for principals will flow on to kids

Education is the engine that drives our future economy. Principals are vital in promoting student learning. Research has asserted principals are second only to classroom teachers in their influence on student learning.

Fortunately, within the caustic statistics and disheartening findings about the principalship from this year’s survey, there are bright spots. A remarkable 90% of Australian school leaders report being passionate about their work, and they have significantly higher job satisfaction than the general population. In short, those who lead our nation’s schools are committed to a profession that fails to reciprocate in kind.


Read more:
Why is being a school principal one of the most dangerous jobs in the country?


We know improving conditions for principals and teachers will also lead to improved learning conditions for students.

How can we improve conditions for principals?

The report puts forward 15 recommendations to help stakeholders responsible for the quality of Australian education. The recommendations are aimed at government, employers, community, schools, individuals and researchers.

Noteworthy is the fact these 15 recommendations remain unchanged from 2016. As the authors note, “the situation across the country continues to trend in the same direction.”

Key recommendations include:

  • governments should abandon short-term educational fixes and concentrate on the 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
  • educators should take responsibility for finding a healthy work/life balance
  • researchers need to develop and conduct more longitudinal research to understand the long-term consequences of interventions and ensure the most effective programs and policies are widely implemented.

In many regions of Australia, the local school is the heart of the community. It’s where talented principals set a vision, develop positive school cultures and put an emphasis on innovative teaching and learning.

The ConversationIt’s also where our children are exposed to great opportunities and transformational thinking, where they find their passions and embark on their life trajectories. This should make the role of school principals in Australia a priority for all of us.

Scott Imig, Senior Lecturer, School Leadership and Reform, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share your comments below.


  • Poor principles, so much demand from them and little respect in return

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  • There should be more male teachers from day one along with the female ones and politicians and bureaucrats should butt out and let the school be autonomous. The principals and the P&C Assoc. or Parent’s Assoc. should run the school – bureaucrats only setting the criteria the school should aim at. And there should be no political bias whether labour or not influencing the children no matter how hard the union pushes being joined up before you educate our children.

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  • Teaching certainly seems to be a stressful job particularly with increased responsibilities & low pay.

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  • Agreed. Perhaps it’s now time to go back to the ways when teachers and Principals taught our kids and politicians stayed out of how schools ran day to day.

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  • A lot is placed on the heads of school principals. There is so much more for them to do then was done my day or my older adult children’s day. School have become independent leading to more stress placed on the teachers there. The good ones will do their best, some do not care ( I think they have just given up). To have parents who do not respect the teaching staff , defending their children who also do not respect the staff, has to be hard to cope with day after day.

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  • I can kinda understand the abuse directed at school principals, I wouldn’t do it myself nor do I condone it, but as the parent of a bullied child who school authorities seemed to not be interested in helping…..I can kinda understand it

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  • Unfortunately a lot don’t seem to know the meaning of respect.
    For awhile pupils called their teachers by their first names. We never knew the first names of our teachers. The pupils know that apart from suspension children they have very few options of behavioural control. Some use that to their dvantage if they don’t like school. I was shocked when a friend’s kid actually bragged about it. If they aren’t taught as children they aren’t aren’t going to teach the next. generation. looks like we could be heading down a spiral. A sad thought.

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  • Principals and teachers have way to much stress and receive way to much abuse. The principals and teachers I know have my respect.

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  • That was a very intriguing read, thank you.

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  • As a school teacher I find this article very interesting. Teachers and Principals cop it all the time from parents/families…and all for just doing their job.

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  • Such a pity that respect seems to have disappeared in this day and age. No respect by children or adults for school principals, teachers, health workers [doctors, nurses & ambulance paramedics], law enforcement officers, etc. etc. etc.
    If respect was taught to the parents thence to the children this whole world would be a much better place.

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  • It’s such a shame that the principals are under so much stress, they do a great job with our kids and shouldn’t have to have the amount of stress everyday in their working lives, I can not believe that parents are so inconsiderate towards our teachers and school staff surely parents need a good kick up the bxx it’s unfair in any work situation


    • Parents and children that do show respect need to spread the word and pass on the message.

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  • A very interesting article and interesting to read that mental health of students and teachers is rising which is a concern.

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  • I think a lot of people don’t realise how hard a job that it is looking after not just a couple of kids but a whole school full of kids and making sure everyone is safe. They should be commended not bullied. No one deserves to be bullied. Period.

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  • I can’t believe the lack of respect for Principals and those in authority these days. It’s not appropriate and demonstrates to children that it’s okay to verbally or physically attack Principals or teachers. Just disgusting behaviour and increasingly part of the world we live in. We love our school Principal – he is available, considerate, interested in our son’s education and life, and we consider him to be a very important role model and mentor to our son. I am shocked and horrified at some of the stories I hear, including the removal of the Principal from the front office, to an area in the middle of the school, so he is not so accessible to abusive adults. Just shocking.

    Reply

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