Principals under threat

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Philip Riley-Principals health and wellbeing survey

Australian principals suffering bullying and stress in the workplace need more support, according to a new ACU study.

A new report released today illustrates the increasing pressures, stress, threats and violence facing Australian principals are consistently increasing and taking their toll.

The 2015 Australian Principal Occupational Health & Wellbeing Survey Report found the following:

  • 41 per cent of principals surveyed have experienced threats of violence
  • 36 per cent experienced some form of bullying
  • 25 per cent experienced actual violence
  • 77 per cent of actual violence was perpetrated by students.

Parents from within the school community were the worst offenders making up 42 per cent of reported bullying and 41 per cent of threats towards principals.

Alarmingly the report also uncovered that more than one in four principals experience actual violence, eight times that experienced by the global population, with students the most common perpetrators (77 per cent of reported violence).

Report author Australian Catholic University (ACU) Associate Professor Philip Riley said the report, now in its fifth year, is showing a consistent escalation of offensive behaviour that can no longer be ignored.

“Many of the results are not only of serious concern for the profession as a whole, but also the broader community. As an example of the toll that issues like this can take, this year’s survey saw double the rate of ‘red flags’ compared with last year. These ‘red flags’ appear when principals’ responses show cause for concern and that intervention may be required,” ACU Associate Professor Riley said.

Despite the increases in offensive behaviour, principals still rate their biggest contributors to stress as the sheer quantity of work and lack of time to focus on teaching and learning. Examples of sources of stress on the rise include dealing with student and staff mental health issues, resourcing and government initiatives.

The report, supported by Teachers Health Fund and conducted by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at ACU, includes responses from approximately 40 per cent of the nation’s principals (4,386 principals from Government, Catholic and Independent primary and secondary schools) over a five-year period.

There is, however, some good news. More principals are taking control of their work-life balance, with a decrease (55 per cent to 39 per cent) of principals working more than 25 hours per week in holiday periods from 2011 to 2015. In addition the increasing rate of job satisfaction is also significantly higher than the general population.

“Now is the time for parents and students to stop the offensive behaviour and the education community and government to resist the quick fixes and focus on the long term,” Associate Professor Riley added. “Most importantly, it’s time to start a national conversation at all levels to address the issues head-on.”

The report outlines seven key recommendations:

  1. Government: Adopt a whole of government approach to education budgets and stop looking for short-term quick fixes.
  2. 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.
  3. Professional associations and unions: Depoliticise the education community and speak with one voice about the education system to inform policy.
  4. Community: Support local schools and stop the offensive behaviour.
  5. Schools: Increase internal social capital through learning from other Australian schools that have made progress in this space. Collaboration both inside and across schools is key.
  6. Educators: Respectfully speak back when faced with moral harassment and take responsibility for your personal work-life balance.
  7. Research community: Provide better longitudinal evidence of the differential impact of all the influences on education to provide better insight into the most effective policies, processes and procedures in Australia’s differing contexts.

2015 Australian Principal Occupational Health & Wellbeing Survey Report – Key national findings

  • Bullying has risen by 12 per cent since 2011, with 36 per cent (1 in 3) of principals reporting being bullied.
  • Threats of violence has risen by 15 per cent since 2011, with 41 per cent (2 in 5) principals reporting threats of violence.
  • Violence has risen by 12 per cent since 2011, with 31 per cent (1 in 3) principals reporting actual physical violence.
  • Burnout is 1.6 times higher for principals than the average population.
  • Stress is 1.7 times higher for principals than the average population.
  • Job satisfaction amongst principals has risen steadily since 2011 and is now 1.1 times higher for principals than the average population.
  • Self-efficacy amongst principals has risen steadily since 2011 and is now 1.1 times higher for principals than the average population.

The full report can be found at

If you or someone you know is suffering for workplace stress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit

For students experiencing stress at school, please speak to your school counsellor or alternatively call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or visit