In May, a national report into principal health and wellbeing revealed that a massive number of Australian school leaders were already being pushed to the brink before the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2019, released by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Deakin University, found that nearly one in three principals face stress and burnout, as well as high levels of threats and physical violence by parents and students.
Another alarming takeaway from the report was that principals are working much longer hours than they should be.
According to the data, principals are working an average of about 55.2 hours a week during the school term, with approximately 97.3% reporting they work over 40 hours a week. Approximately 72.4% reported working over 50 hours a week.
Last week, the Australian Government Primary Principal Association (AGPPA) – the national body for primary principals at government schools – convened its national council meeting to discuss principal health and wellbeing in 2020.
One of the sessions, which looked primarily at government primary principals, involved the insights and advice of Professor Philip Riley from Deakin University’s School of Education, who has been working with principals across Australia as part of his research for the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Surveys.
Ian Anderson, president of the Australian Government Primary Principals Association (AGPPA), said that whilst concerned about the ongoing trend in the data, suggesting that the group impacted most by violence and threats of violence is females in the government primary sector, AGPPA members were very keen to explore some of the reasons for the positive turnaround in Victoria and some of the other jurisdictions.
“Of great interest was the way in which the Victorian Department examined workload and unnecessary compliance tasks faced by their school leaders, then put in place structures to support principals, including the Complex Case Management Unit,” Anderson told The Educator.
“We are keen to see if this trend continues, as well as in other states which had implemented significant Health and Wellbeing policies and programs”.
Anderson said that while conversations are still focused on the data in the 2019 Report, the Association is in the process of identifying a number of key questions for the team to investigate.
“In particular are key questions around gender, age, SEI and location,” Anderson said.
“We hope to have our report by the end of the year, based on 2018 and 2019 data and Phil’s insight into the trends over time”.
Anderson said AGPPA is currently in the process of sourcing a detailed report from Professor Riley’s team that is focused entirely on government primary school principals that is broken down by states and territories so that the Association can use the data to drive programs in its jurisdictions, as well as at the federal level.
“We are keen for Phil and his team to include questions related to COVID this year so that the data can be used to inform policy makers for the future,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he observed an initial positive spike in how principals were respected by communities in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To some extent, this has continued, although there are now regular reports coming through which are quite alarming,” he said.
“The impact on principals during this time has been huge and the data will prove to be most interesting”.