27 February 2019Share
One in three Australian school principals was physically attacked and one in two experienced threats of violence at work, according to a new survey released today (Wednesday, 27 Feb 2019).
In a worrying trend, almost half of school principals (45%) were threatened with violence in 2018, compared with 38% in 2011. The survey also found that increasing threats and violence, aggravated by excessive working hours, are leading to serious levels of distress, burnout and depression among school leaders.
Now in its 8th year, The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey,has collected data from about 50% of Australia’s 10,000 principals from 2011 to 2018. Australia’s principals are overwhelmed by the volume of work; being threatened with violence; being physically attacked, having great difficulty sleeping; and experiencing high rates of depressive symptoms.
Associate Professor Philip Riley, from Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Positive Psychology and Education and the survey’s chief investigator, said, “Clearly, our nation builders are under attack. Consequently, fewer people are willing to step into the role. At a time when 70% of school leaders will reach retirement age within 2-3 years, we are ignoring a looming national crisis.”
The survey found the sheer quantity of work and the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning were the greatest sources of principals’ stress. Teacher shortages were also a frequent issue.
An increasing source of stress is managing the mental health issues of staff and of students.
• One in three principals was physically attacked in 2018.
• Violence jumped from 27% in 2011 to 37% in 2018.
“Australia’s school leaders experience a far higher rate of offensive behaviour at work than the general population,” Associate Professor Philip Riley said.
Female school leaders are most at risk of physical violence with 40% experiencing violence compared to 32% of male school leaders.
The rates of physical violence show a concerning upwards trend in almost every part of Australia including: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and the ACT.
Associate Professor Philip Riley said, “The steadily increasing levels of offensive behaviour in schools of all types is a disgrace and it needs to stop.”
One in three school leaders was identified as so distressed that their physical and mental health were seriously at risk.
When compared to the general population, principals report 1.5 times higher job demands, 1.6 times higher levels of burnout, 1.7 times higher stress symptoms, 2.2 times more difficulty sleeping, 1.3 times negative physical symptoms and 1.3 times more depressive symptoms.
“Australia should adopt a whole-of-government approach to education,” Associate Professor Philip Riley said. “This would mean the federal government, states and territories combine to oversee a single education budget. The funding agreement should be bipartisan and a transparent mechanism which is simple to understand.”
Other recommendations include: