The health and wellbeing of school leaders is deteriorating as a survey reveals one in 10 principals thinks about self-harm or has a low quality of life.
Preliminary figures from the Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey paint a grim picture of the mental health of those running the country's schools.
They follow the death of a respected Victorian principal, Dr Mark Thompson, who took his own life in December.
Australian Catholic University associate professor of educational leadership Philip Riley, who is leading the survey, said excessive administration tasks and demands from parents fuelled the problem.
"Everybody is terrified of the legal ramifications so there is this incredible exercise of covering everyone's back."
He said state schools were required to regularly audit every chemical on their grounds, which included everything from cleaning products to Wite-Out.
"It's ridiculous and time-wasting."
About 1200 Australian principals have taken part in the survey so far this year. It is now in its fifth year and will close in October.
However, between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of respondents have triggered a red warning flag.
This is generated when principals say they have felt like harming themselves in the past week or receive a low quality of life score.
Associate Professor Riley said there had been a doubling of red flag notifications since last year's survey.
He said wellbeing programs did not address the problem, and principals needed more administrative support.
"Some principals are cleaning toilets, gutters, running the school and teaching," he said.
Australian Principals Federation president Julie Podbury said being a principal had become an increasingly complex job.
She said some principals felt compelled to take on everything themselves because they did not have enough staff.
Stress levels skyrocketed when there was conflict with staff and parents.
"Generally speaking, they are resilient, hardworking, well-grounded people. But when a really difficult issue hits them, like everyone, there is a limit to how much they can bear. That is when their mental health is at risk," she said.
Education Minister James Merlino said the figures were "deeply concerning".
He said the state government had consulted extensively with principals to discuss ways of ensuring they received better support.
"Principals are the education leaders within our communities; they do a fantastic job and their wellbeing is a priority for the Andrews Labor government," he said.
"I am looking forward to putting more tangible supports in place and we will be making announcements in this space in the near future."
The Education Department has a confidential all-hours counselling service for employees and has expanded a special unit that provides support to principals.
Mmmmmmm I've contributed to this survey since it started. It would be good to see the whole 5 years compared. I always include the survey results in my performance plan and it has never been commented on. It would be good if they could break it down according to school size. I'd like to know how teaching principals fair? My results aren't too flash! Keen to see what Merlino's tangible support will be.
School students are stealing their teacher's passwords and setting up their own networks to bypass tight internet restrictions at school, research shows.
School students are stealing their teacher's passwords and setting up their own networks to bypass tight internet restrictions at school, research shows. Photo: Louie Douvis
School students are routinely using their teachers' passwords, setting up their own networks or learning hacking techniques to access blacklisted websites blocked by the Victorian Department of Education's filtering software.
Nearly 60 per cent of 1200 Victorian secondary students surveyed by Monash University researchers have admitted to bypassing internet filters, mostly to use social media sites at school. Here's how they are doing it:
Students boasting about their "mad hacking skills" say they are stealing teacher and administrator logins to gain unrestricted access. "The password system to the network is not particularly secure, so many people have figured the code and connect regardless that it is not permitted," one student reveals in the survey.
Changing the admin rights
Students say they can reconfigure their devices to get around school network restrictions, by "editing registry files" and removing or changing administrator access to their computers.
Proxy servers and virtual private networks can give students anonymous, unfiltered internet access. "With the use of proxy servers you can access whatever sites you choose," one student says.
Some students have figured out that their school filters don't restrict Chinese websites, and that alternate versions of URLs can lead to unblocked access. "A website can be entered without a www. at the front to change the address so that version isn't blocked," one student notes. Some are entering the Facebook link into Google translate and clicking on the link to get into the page.
Most students bypass the school's Wi-Fi and use the internet on their phones instead. As one student put it: "Everyone has 3G so nobody cares about using school Wi-Fi."
Being 'a ninja'
Hiding phones in jackets, pockets, or under shirts are widespread practices. "Everyone secretly uses their phones in classes," one student says. These less technical manoeuvres are described by students as "be[ing] a ninja" or "being sneaky". Another approach is merely bringing up multiple tabs on the school computer, to hide that they are playing Candy Crush or Googling Kim Kardashian. Most students want access to popular sites - Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Deezer and app stores. Some claim they want to visit sites with educational merit, including Yahoo Answers and FactMonster. "We should be able to access sites such as YouTube to be able to use the video with learning and helping create better presentations," one student says.
Nearly 60 per cent of students surveyed believe rules on digital technology should be changed. Many claim tight restrictions showed schools were out of touch. "They're [mobile phones] not always a distraction and can be helpful in classes, but most teachers don't use them to their advantage," one student says. Students want freedom to choose how and when they use their own technology, and they question the teacher's' right to confiscate their devices. "They're out iPads," one student says.
Lead researcher Professor Neil Selwyn, who has studied trends in student technology use for more than 20 years, says regulating the internet had created "headaches" for many Victorian schools. "Kids will always be one step ahead of any filter or software restriction you apply," he says. "It's not a simple task, I do sympathise with schools."
Filters barring valid websites because they contained images of blood or the word "sex" were excessive, Professor Selwyn says. Schools should rather focus on building trust with students and allow social media, which could have educational benefit, he says.
"We're seeing a generation clash and culture clash between students and schools. Some schools are making a lot of work for themselves by regulating technology use so heavily.
"Often these are problems which could be avoided by being more open and trusting with students. I'm sure in ten years time most schools will not be blocking websites and banning devices".
Victorian Education Department spokesman Simon Craig says parents and students are being educated about cyber safety. He admits that "no filtering system is bulletproof".
Mr Craig says many students are connecting to external networks by using their mobile phone, and he advised schools to discourage mobile phone use unless they were being incorporated into the learning program.
"We urge parents and students to contact their school if they have any concerns about inappropriate internet content," he says.
Ouch! I've heard of this happening in big schools. never happened here at Glen Park but I am ( or have been ) diligent with some students. I've found that kids that don't have boundaries around cyber usage at home don't adhere to them at school. I have removed ICT privileges and iPad use from one student but he didn't get very far. Something to watch out for.
From the Age Education Facebook page