A new report shows that principals have been pushed to the brink as they try to manage huge workloads with minimal resources.
The Principal's Health and Well-being Survey 2016, commissioned by primary sector union, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), spoke to 398 principals (20%) across the country, and 14 deputy and assistant principals.
The report – which was released this week – found that 72% of school leaders work more than 51 hours per week, and 25% work more than 61 hours during term time.
And contrary to popular opinion about teachers and their excess holidays, 92% reported at least 10 hours, and half of respondents reported working more than 25 hours, during school holidays.
In another alarming finding, levels of stress and burnout among school leaders were found to be higher than the general population. Many are working extra hours with no pay, working through the holidays and struggling to sleep because of the demands of the job – all putting their health and personal lives at risk.
In a statement, NZEI president, Lynda Stuart, said the latest results for New Zealand’s principals were very worrying.
“The report found that school leaders are hardworking and intrinsically motivated but face considerable pressure in their roles, most often from increasing workload caused by new government initiatives,” Stuart said.
“The stress of trying to budget to meet the needs of every student despite increasingly inadequate funding must also play a part.”
Stuart added that survey respondents reported “very little professional support” from their boards of trustees, which employ them, or from the Ministry of Education.
“Those who felt supported in their role were finding support from their personal networks instead,” she said.
“This situation is not sustainable and places significant health risks on the people leading our schools. It’s now a major health and safety risk that the government must address.”
She went on to warn that the situation was “out of control” and that the nation’s ministry must be more proactive about supporting school leaders.
“We really need to look at workload as a priority, because the bureaucracy and paperwork is getting out of control. Principals are unable to spend adequate time focussing on students’ teaching and learning, and that’s not good for our children’s education.”
Australian principals sharing the burden
The outlook for Australian principals’ workloads and stress levels is just as gloomy, according to Australian Catholic University (ACU) associate professor, Dr Philip Riley.
Riley told The Educator that many of Australia’s education departments are not doing enough to provide the kind of support principals have been demanding for years.
“State education departments need to do more for principal health and well-being in general. The other departments I’ve briefed understand this, but only a few are making good progress,” he said.
Riley added that while governments were gradually beginning to sit up and take notice of the issues principals are facing, he said leaders would be reluctant to make any meaningful changes in the short-term.
The Australian Principal's Health and Well-being Survey 2016 is expected to be released early next month.