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Survey shows increased threats and violence against principals



The 2017 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey shows threats and violence against principals has increased and they experience a higher level of offensive behaviour at work than most Australians.

The results present a stagnating set of figures and continue to highlight ongoing challenges for schools, school systems and governments, says Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) President Dennis Yarrington.

The survey, released this month, was published by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University. It is part of a research project that aims to conduct a longterm study monitoring school principals and deputy/assistant principals’ health and wellbeing annually.

The 2017 survey showed principals and deputy or assistant principals experience a far higher prevalence of offensive behaviour at work than Australia’s general population, with 44 per cent of respondents having received threats of violence, and one in three principals reporting actual violence.

Over the seven years of the study, the two greatest sources of stress that have remained consistently high have been quantity of work, and lack of time to focus on teaching and learning. There has also been an increase in stress caused by mental health issues of students and mental health issues of staff.

Mr Yarrington heads the APPA – the national professional association that represents more than 7,200 Government, Catholic and Independent primary school principals across Australia.

He said the report points to a growing number of leaders reporting violence and threats of violence, and the increasing hours of work expected of principals to meet the mounting demands of running a school.

Running any school is a demanding task that naturally brings a certain level of stress, Mr Yarrington said.

“Principals accept that,” he said. “However, we don’t need to look far to know the serious consequences when workload and work demands impact on personal health. The results are simply not good for principals, staff, students or parents.”

The survey data and report made it clear that school leaders are having to deal with increased levels of stress, unrealistic demands, limited resources and less time to focus on what is core business – the education of students within their school, Mr Yarrington said.

He said there is a need to change the trend that being a principal means abuse, threats and assault.

“It is simply not acceptable. We need policies and practices in place that give a clear message of what is acceptable and what is not,” he said.

“APPA calls on all Education Ministers and employers to lead this message and then back their principals through action.

“The report highlighted the passion principals bring to their role. It warned though that when passion becomes obsessive, then stress, burnout and poor health begin to appear. Principals working over 55 and 65 hours a week is far too common and cannot be helping anyone – students, teachers or themselves.”

Mr Yarrington said the APPA welcomed the report’s recommendation for a national strategy and review of the work practises of principals and deputies.