The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey has consistently highlighted that many principals are at breaking point.

Overseen by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) at ACU in partnership with Deakin University, the Principals’ Wellbeing Project is funded by an ARC Linkage Grant and various industry partners who contribute cash and in-kind support to the project. The partners include the Teachers Health Fund, Catholic Church Insurance, The Australian Primary Principals Association, The New South Wales Secondary Principals Council and the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia.

Professor Herb Marsh, Chief Investigator, said a national crisis is looming as 70% of principals plan to retire soon, and fewer people are willing to step into the role.

“Under-resourced, mistreated and overburdened with red tape, principals report that, compared to the general population, their job demands are 1.5 times higher, and they experience 1.7 times more stress, 2.2 times more difficulty sleeping and 1.3 times more depressive symptoms."
Professor Herb Marsh
Founder of the International SELF Research Centre and Emeritus Professor of Education at Oxford University

“More concerning is the level of offensive behaviour directed at principals with 45% reporting that they had been threatened with violence in 2018, compared to 38% in 2011, and 37% reporting actual physical violence.

“Either the demands of being a principal must decrease, or the resources needed to match the demands must increase if the crisis is to be averted.”

The survey has run every year since 2011 in response to growing concern about principals’ wellbeing and approximately 50% of principals have participated nationally. Principals complete the survey online and receive individualised, real-time feedback on their health via scores comparing responses to 45 indicators with the general population, professional peers and themselves over time. A red flag indicator triggers an automatic response outlining available support services.

Professor Marsh pointed out that the Principals’ Wellbeing Project has had significant impact throughout Australia.

“The NSW Government has allocated $100 million to support principals, and the Victorian Government has allocated $4 million to provide health checks for principals,” he said.

“The Teachers Health Fund has reduced the waiting time for new members wishing to access psychological services from 12 to two months.

“And better support for school principals has been a policy of the Australian Greens since 2013.”

The Principals’ Wellbeing Project has expanded to Ireland and New Zealand, where the culture and education structures are similar. IPPE is also collaborating with the Finnish Principals Association to collect data in Finland in 2019, and there is strong interest from the International Confederation of Principals to conduct the research in more countries.

Lead researchers


Professor Herb Marsh

Founder of the International SELF Research Centre, recognised as the most productive educational psychologist in the world, Emeritus Professor of Education at Oxford University. 


Associate Professor Philip Riley

Associate Professor of Educational Leadership in ACU’s Faculty of Education and Arts (at the time of the 2018 Engagement and Impact Assessment)



Impact summary

An infographic research summary of the impacts of this research is available below.

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Engagement and impact assessment 2018

ACU submitted this research as an Impact study in the 2018 ARC Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment. The research received the rank of 'Medium', meaning the impact made a significant contribution to economy, society, environment, or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research.

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