QUEENSLAND school principals reported the worst amount of burnout, sleeping problems, stress and depressive symptoms compared with principals around the country, well before the COVID-19 pandemic, shocking research reveals.
The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2019, published today, reveals record numbers of school principals – nearly one in three – faced stress and burnout from their jobs, including high levels of threats and physical violence by parents and students.
The nationwide survey was a joint-research project between Deakin University and the Australian Catholic University, also revealed alarming personal accounts from Queensland school leaders.
“I regularly get abused by parents and threatened by parents. It is quintessential bullying in many ways, as parents are focused on discredited the school and its processes and decision-making structures,” one school leader said in the survey.
“Leaving Education Queensland has been the best decision I ever made for my mental, emotional and physical health and wellbeing. I don’t feel ‘recovered’ but I’m on my way,” another school leader said.
And another school leader said the “unrealistic demands of parents is unsustainable”.
“Parents are so busy protecting students from consequences they don’t address poor or violent behaviour,” they said.
The survey, completed in 2019, prior to the bushfires, floods and COVID-19 pandemic, also reveals school leaders are more concerned for the mental health of students and staff than in any previous year.
The survey found that, compared to the general population, a far higher percentage of school leaders reported being threats of violence (51 per cent compared with 7.8 per cent), physical violence (42.2 per cent compared with 3.9 per cent) and bullying (37.6 per cent compared with 8.3 per cent).
And they also faced higher rates of conflict and quarrels (57.5 per cent compared with 51.2 per cent), and gossip and slander (50.9 per cent compared with 38.9 per cent).
But researchers from ACU and Deakin believe mass disruptions to school and home life during COVID-19 could improve community appreciation for school principals.
Deakin University Professor Phil Riley said the coronavirus shutdown of schools had shown communities the vital role school leaders play.
“The sudden changes to education delivery prompted by COVID-19 restrictions required an unprecedented response by school leaders to rollout remote learning opportunities for their students,” Professor Riley said.
And ACU Professor Herb Marsh said while violence was a problem, school leaders were drawing a line in the sand that the appalling behaviour must end in schools.
“The combined impact of record levels of heavy workloads and offensive behaviour by parents and students is a risk to school leaders’ long-term health and even their life expectancy.”
The report made recommendations in solving the issues faced by principals including; long-term policy and planning and providing greater personal resources to help them cope; reducing job demands and/or increasing resources; and changing community perceptions of school leaders.
Education Minister Grace Grace said the State Government was acutely aware of the challenges school leaders faced in their roles, seizing on the research launch to announce an $8 million health and wellbeing strategy to support principals of state schools.
She said development of the strategy had been informed by extensive consultation over the past 12 months including with the report researchers and about 800 principals.
Ms Grace said that under the strategy, a range of actions would be implemented to optimise principals’ time to lead, provide tailored support services, promote safety and respect in school communities, and invest in capability.
“We are investing in proactive health and wellbeing coaching, expanding programs to help principals to manage stress and build resilience, piloting a principal support hotline, and monitoring and addressing workload concerns through the recently established Workload Advisory Council,” she said.
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World news – AU – How parents are making principalsâ lives hell