SPC Media Release: Principal Wellbeing

The NSW Secondary Principals’ Council is urging the State Government to invest in more training, resources and support services for school leaders, with the latest wellbeing survey showing alarming levels of overwork, burnout and stress after the COVID pandemic.

 The Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2020 is a longitudinal study tracking trends in the health, wellbeing, and safety of school leaders and making policy recommendations to both government and key stakeholders.

In its 10th year the study is jointly conducted by researchers at Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Deakin University, surveying 2,248 school principals in primary and secondary schools across all states and territories.

Craig Petersen, President, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council welcomes the report.  “The survey findings parallel our own research which was conducted in association with Dr Scott Imig of Newcastle University as well as the recent Valuing the Teaching Profession Report, initiated by NSW Teachers’ Federation,” he said.

“The national report is incredibly insightful and identifies many of the key drivers of health risk to principals. In our NSW context, there are also additional stressors related to a constantly changing reform agenda.”

The Secondary Principals’ Council warns that the long-term fallout from the disastrous bushfire season (2019-2020) and the global pandemic could be felt in schools for generations and are urging the Federal to avoid cutting education funding to make up for the financial costs of COVID rescue packages.

“School communities are still recovering from the major disruptions of the last 12-18 months,” said Craig Petersen.  “We cannot afford to under-estimate the impact that this is having on individuals in our schools, including the principal, who is often the lynch-pin of the local community.”

MAJOR FINDINGS

 Workload issues: Almost all principals (97%) worked overtime and close to 70% worked more than 56 hours a week during school term and 25 hours a week during the holidays.

Mental health concerns: Three of out 10 school leaders (almost 30%) received a red flag email alerting them to contact employee support services. These alert emails are triggered when school leaders taking the survey are considered at risk of self-harm, occupational health problems or serious impacts to their quality of life.

Offensive behaviours: More than 40% of principals reported being exposed to threats of violence or being a victim of physical violence in 2020. This is up to 9 times greater than the general population. However, several categories of offensive behaviours decreased in 2020 which is attributed to the reduced face-to-face contact with parents.

 Aging workforce: Almost half (47.5%) of school leaders are over 56 years of age. Almost 7% (6.8%) of school leaders plan to retire this year in 2021.

Job Satisfaction improvements: More Principals reported an increase in job satisfaction and  commitment to the workplace, as well as more support from colleagues and supervisors. This was also helped by a positive shift in community attitudes towards school leaders and schools seen as essential services during COVID.

 “Whilst there has been some improvement, at a local level, in the appreciation of the work of teachers and principals, we have not seen this enhanced perception reflected in a sustained way beyond the local communities,” said Mr Petersen.  “Our teachers and leaders, who were seen as essential during the height of the pandemic, are often disregarded in relation to our ongoing concerns around the work environment and increasing workload intensification and complexity.”

 RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Independent taskforce to investigate offensive behaviours occurring in schools.
  • Employers need to take the moral choice of reducing job demands or increase job resources to allow school leaders to cope with the increased workload.
  • Federal, state & territory governments should come together to maintain a single education budget in a managerial way. All school funding should be transparent so that anyone, at any level of the system, can confidently know how much money schools have.

“There demands on our school teachers and leaders have continued to grow at the same time  that the complexity of our schools has increased significantly,” says Craig Petersen.  “All of our students and staff deserve a safe environment in which to learn and work.  We need to prioritise maximising the potential of every child, regardless of their family circumstance or the community in which they live.”


 

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