As older principals retire, their deputies are reluctant to take up the job due to the workloads, stress and burnout that comes with the job, a new study shows.
Loretta Piazza, principal of Meadowglen Primary School in Epping, Victoria, co-authored the study with respected Melbourne principal, Mark Thompson, who took his own life in 2014 before the project was completed.
The study surveyed assistant principals in Victoria's north-west, and found an overwhelming majority in almost all age groups said they had no intention of applying to become principal.
Victoria’s Andrews Government has said it fully supports principals and had invested $82m to roll out 17 regional teams to relieve principals and teachers from administrative burdens so they could focus on students.
But will this be enough to reverse the trend?
The findings follow a nationwide study by the Australian Catholic University (ACU), released in December, which found that principals were five times more likely than the wider population to face stress, depression, burnout and threats of violence.
Alarmingly, every state had recorded an increase in the same issues that are causing assistant principals in Victoria to turn down one of the most crucial jobs in society.
While South Australia recorded a significant decline in instances of actual violence and threats of violence, 36% of principals said they had been physically threatened, while instances of bullying had remained about the same.
South Australia Secondary Principals Association (SASPA) president, Peter Mader said the situation was “unacceptable”.
“We are pleased to see that the trend of threats of violence and physical violence towards SA principals is declining, but it is still unacceptable for 24% of SA principals to have experienced physical violence in the workplace during 2015,” Mader told The Educator.
“Our association supports the call for a national conversation to address the issues highlighted in the report.”
Employment data from SEEK released in August last year revealed vacancies for school management jobs spiked 256% over the past year – however, few were stepping up to fill these positions – something that may reflect a looming national shortage of principals.
Australian Principals Federation (APF) president, Julie Podbury, told The Educator that while retiring principals factored into the staffing void, another factor was that prospective applicants had serious concerns about the impact the demanding role could have on their own well-being.
“It is a very difficult role, and insufficiently paid for its incredible and complex demands,” Podbury said.
“In general terms it is a role that many will shy away from if they value their well-being.”