From the ABC radio program AM By Stephanie Corsetti
Many assistant principals are reluctant to step up into the role of principal due to the level of work stress, a Victorian study has found, as many principals report facing long hours and bullying.
Research finds assistant principals unwilling to step up into role of principal
Stress, long working hours key deterrents for staff
Co-author points to recent research showing more burnout and stress for principals than general population
The National Principals Association is now pushing for more support for senior staff.
The research, which has only just been published, was co-authored by a Melbourne school principal who took his own life more than a year ago.
A separate Australian Catholic University survey in December on principal wellbeing found high levels of job satisfaction, but more burnout and stress than the general population.
In the ACU survey more than 70 per cent of respondents also said they had experienced some form of bullying or violent threats.
The participants said they felt a lack of support from Victoria's Education Department to deal with staff, student and parent problems.
Meadow Glen Primary school principal Loretta Piazza, the other co-author of the latest study, said that a feeling of a lack of support from the Education Department was one of the most consistent findings in the research.
"What these assistants were saying was 'look I've been in the job for a fair while, I've seen the hours my principal works, 50, 60 sometimes 70 hours a week — I'm not going to do it, so the more I've been in the job, the more I see and the more I'm disinclined to take on that role'," Dr Piazza said.
The findings did show a group of eager men aged under the age of 44 who were optimistic about becoming a principal.
But Dr Piazza said that result raised some red flags, because younger inexperienced principals could face a number of wellbeing issues.
Co-author's suicide came after stress of dealing with complaint
Dr Piazza said it took her some time to go public with her research findings.
The paper's co-author, Mark Thompson, took his own life in 2014.( Refer a previous post)
He was principal of Eltham Primary school in Melbourne's north-east and had been dealing with a parent complaint before his death.
"It's not just about Mark, it's about me as a principal, it's about all the other principals who have been in the job for so long and there are many times where we feel so alone," Dr Piazza said.
'Only person who can understand the principal's role is another principal'
Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) president Dennis Yarrington said some states and territories were beginning to take action to reduce the burden on principals.
"I noticed in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, they are looking at innovative practices around principal development, so giving them skills and knowledge to address the increased workload," he said.
Mr Yarrington said the APPA hoped to run a next-generation principal course this year to help principals develop skills to manage stress.
The only person who can really understand the principal's role is another principal and so how do we connect principals so they feel supported?" he said.
"And nationally it's also the response from the national Government looking at what is happening that can be co-ordinated across Australia."
Dr Piazza said the Victorian Education Department needed to take note.
"It would be good to know that the next wave of principals, and hopefully there will be a nice big group, we'd like to think that they will be supported and they will feel that they can do their job well and earn the respect that they deserve," she said.
The State Government said it was committed to supporting school principals and it was listening to those who needed extra help.
A Government spokesman said they were implementing 17 new local teams to relieve principals and teachers from operational and administrative burdens so they could focus on students.
Same story from The Age
Assistant principals are reluctant to take up the top jobs at Victorian schools due to long hours and higher levels of stress, burnout and abuse, a new study says.
The research was co-authored by a respected former Melbourne principal, Mark Thompson, who took his own life in 2014 before the project was completed.
Workplace stress and abuse from a student's parent were believed to have had a part in his suicide.
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.
Meadowglen Primary School principal Loretta Piazza, who co-authored the study, said the results revealed assistant principals felt a lack of support from the Education Department to handle staff, student and parent problems.
"When we asked why they would not apply for principal jobs, they gave a whole list of things," she said.
"They see the long hours – 60 and 70-hour weeks – they don't like the abuse copped from parents, students, everyone, and we don't get enough support."
Dr Piazza said the 2014 death of her former colleague, Dr Thompson, came as he was dealing with the stresses of a parent complaint.
He was principal of Eltham Primary School when a parent began accusing him of discrimination against a pupil, Dr Piazza said.
"This was the straw that broke the camel's back," she said.
Matt Thompson, Dr Thompson's son, said his father had suffered from work-related stress.
"My dad was a great educator. His focus all throughout his career was putting students first," he said.
"But he spent, particularly towards the end of his career, so much time dealing with trivial complaints from parents ... I think towards the end it all perhaps got too much for him."
The study found assistant principals aged under 44 were more eager to step up and likely to apply to be school principals than those who were older.
Dr Piazza said this finding raised further wellbeing concerns because younger principals could often be under-experienced and ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of the job.
It comes as a new nationwide study, by the Australian Catholic University, found principals had high job satisfaction but were five times more likely than the wider population to face stress, depression, burnout and threats of violence.
More than 40 per cent of principals said they had been threatened and more than one third reported being bullied, usually by students' parents.
"Principals are having massive problems with mental health and quality of life," survey author Associate Professor Philip Riley said.
"They are suffering in all kinds of ways."
Dr Piazza said the Victorian Education Department must heed the warnings highlighted in the two recent studies, and provide greater support to school leaders.
"A number of senior people at the department don't have an educational background ... they don't know what it's like to be abused by a disgruntled parent, or have your tyres slashed by a student," she said.
"While they have a number of fantastic skills, if they have never worked in schools, they have no understanding of the pressures and the day-to-day issues facing principals."
The Andrews government said it fully supported school principals, and had invested $82 million to roll out 17 regional teams to relieve principals and teachers from administrative burdens so they could focus on students.
"We listened to school principals who said they needed extra support to provide the best support possible to the kids in their care," a government spokesman said.
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