Survey shows poor grade for principal health and wellbeing

Aug 14, 2015 by

Henrietta Cook –

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.

Source: Survey shows poor grade for principal health and wellbeing

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