Every public school principal in Victoria will soon be given health checks as part of a State Government initiative to identify trends and intervene.
The voluntary and anonymous medical check-ups will assess and monitor principals’ physical health. Principals will also be given confidential reports outlining the medical assessments as well as potential future health risks.
The Victorian Education Department estimates that up to 30% of the state’s 3,117 public school principals and assistant principals will participate in the health checks every year.
The most recent survey into principal health and well-being shows that increasing reports of stress due to the mental health issues of students and staff are taking a heavy toll on principals.
However, principals say that despite the profession’s repeated calls over the years for burgeoning administrative workloads to be reduced, little has been done.
Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, told The Educator that following the release of the Price and the Privilege Report commissioned by the DET, Victoria in 2004, principal well-being was identified as a major concern.
“To widespread dismay – and even angst amongst principals – the DET's response then was to offer principals a $500 voucher for a free medical check-up. No substantive changes to their workload or conditions were made,” he said.
“Thirteen years later and we have the same ineffective strategy being recycled. It's enough to almost drive one into depression”.
Grossek said that as welcome as the health checks are, they are “simply treating the symptoms”.
“Constructive measures in the way of addressing workload issues and the increasingly intolerable pressures of the job are urgently required,” Grossek said.
“Health checks are already available to principals – many doctors still offer them via the free bulk billing service.”
Philip Riley, an associate professor at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) who conducts the annual principal health and well-being survey, called the health checks “a defensive legal strategy” to prevent principals from suing the Department.
“The issues is the amount of work that the Department is making principals do, so pushing it out to say ‘let’s look at the health and well-being data’ is clearly misguided’,” he told The Educator.
“They should be looking at their own processes and how the impact this is having on principals”.
Riley said the latest initiative was a “knee-jerk” reaction by the Department, which he said had been non-communicative with regards to collaborating with him on ways to address the core issues that principals face.
“The South Australian Education Department invited me to their office for two days last week to look at their policies and examine ways to tackle the big issues for principals,” he said.
“That’s a serious and proactive attempt at doing something about these issues. They’re clearly aiming at trying to fix the problem in a real way for a sustainable improvement – not a knee-jerk reaction, which has been the Victorian approach”.
The Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals has been contacted for comment.