Rise in attacks on Australian school principals

Dec 3, 2015 by

Henrietta Cook –

Attacks on Australian principals are on the rise, with new research revealing one in three have experienced physical violence in schools.

Schools have responded by installing CCTV cameras, issuing warning notes to parents and holding fiery meetings in glass rooms.

Forty-one per cent of principals said they had received threats of violence, up from 36 per cent the previous year.

While students were the most common perpetrators of violence, parents were the worst offenders when it came to threats.

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, which involved input from 4300 principals, also revealed escalating stress levels and poor mental health.

About one in 10 principals said they thought about self-harm or had a low quality of life.

Report author Philip Riley, an associate professor at the Australian Catholic University, said Australia was becoming an increasingly violent society where people took their frustrations out on principals.

“School is an emotionally charged environment. It goes from a bit of pushing right through to serious violence that requires medical attention.”

He said bullying, threats and violence were an issue across all sectors, and called for a more long-term response from government.

St Helena Secondary College principal Karen Terry received a death threat three weeks ago and was also targeted with “nasty” graffiti.

Eighteen months earlier, her car tyres were slashed.

“Occasionally I have felt unsafe,” she said.

“When my tyres were slashed it was an unpleasant feeling knowing that someone had that degree of hatred against me when I was just doing my job.”

Technology has compounded the issue, with principals receiving confronting messages from anonymous email addresses at all hours of the day, she said.

Ms Terry has issued written warnings to parents, and said the school took angry parents into a fishbowl meeting room with glass.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Judy Crowe said the alarming findings reflected the increasing pressures and expectations being placed on schools.

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said the under-resourcing of schools had led to unmanageable workloads and extra stress for principals.

“”Our school system is under-resourced and is relying on principals to compensate by increasing their workloads. Recent research showed that Australia had bigger class sizes and longer teaching hours than the OECD average.”

A spokesman for Education Minister James Merlino said the Education Department had released new guidelines that would help schools prevent violent student behaviour.

“”There is no place for aggressive and threatening behaviour in Victorian schools and we take the safety of all our staff and students very seriously.”

Source: Research reveals rise in attacks on Australian school principals

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