Extracts from a terrific story by Henrietta Cook in the Age about the suicide of Principal Mark Thompson in 2014, which I blogged about at the time. The story claims DET is doing more to support Principals, I'd dispute that.
Anyone who works in the education system knows how the pressure builds up over years. It has intensified as society changed, with schools expected to do more. Not only are schools expected to educate students, but they now have to prepare them for life in the outside world. As well as teaching students how to read and write, they need to teach them about respectful relationships, cyber security, sex education and drug education.
They need to prepare students for NAPLAN tests, provide parents with constant updates on students' progress and be available at all times, thanks to technology. Teachers and principals are dealing with students with mental health issues, drug problems and complicated family lives. Meanwhile, principals also have to run a business. They complain about being crushed by the volume of administrative tasks that were previously handled by the Education Department regions.
Julie Podbury is the president of the Australian Principals Federation. She worked as a principal for 20 years at Brighton Secondary College, and says workload is one of the biggest contributors to mental health issues in the profession. "It's a massive job," she says from her high-rise Docklands office, which overlooks boats bobbing on the Yarra River. "It has just become a huge task."
Recently, she asked a handful of principals to submit daily diary entries documenting the pressures of their jobs. This is what one principal's 11½-hour day involved:
Checking up on a student who turned up to school with bruises
Contacting a local MP about inadequate funding
Searching a former student's files in preparation for an upcoming court case
Arranging professional development for staff
Dealing with a student who declared he had cut his arm with a razor
Greeting a contractor who had arrived to fix windows
Sending a child home after hours of unrest
Endless phone calls and emails, and a meeting with a parent.
In the past five years mental health claims to Teachers Health Fund, a private health insurer for educators, have almost doubled. Its chief executive, Bradley Joyce, says mental health issues have led to teachers leaving the profession, put extra financial pressures on schools and hurt students' educational experience. But many principals and teachers don't reach out for help. They fear they will lose their job, or be branded weak.
An annual study by the Australian Catholic University's Phil Riley has consistently found that rates of stress, depression and burnout among Australian principals are twice those of the general population. He receives an email alert when a principal discloses in the online survey that they have thought about harming themselves in the past week, or indicate that they have a very poor quality of life. He has already received 400 of these warnings this year, and refers these principals to mental health services.
"I think workload is the main issue," he says. "They are working an average 60 hours per week. There is a lot more accountability because there is less trust in principals."
School of stress
Teachers and principals made 172 WorkCover claims for mental injury in 2015, up from 137 the previous year.
In the past five years mental health claims to Teachers Health Fund, a private health insurer for educators, have almost doubled.
An Australian Education Union workload survey of 13,000 teachers and principals released last week showed teachers in Victoria work more than 53 hours and principals 60 hours every week.