A drop in student enrolments at Laidley District State School has parents and some in the community concerned.
A drop in student enrolments at Laidley District State School has parents and some in the community concerned.

Why our school principals are faltering under pressure

OUR principals are in trouble.

An increasing workload is bringing more pressure and our school leaders are burning out but more worryingly, violence and threats against them are on the rise, a national report has found.

The 2017 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey was released today and the report's author Associate Professor Philip Riley, 59, East Melbourne, said violence in schools is out of control.

"Principals have ended up in hospital with serious injuries," Professor Riley said.

"I've had stories of principals who have been stalked late at night in a remote country school where headlights just flash around the window.

"And then when they're driving home there are menacing cars behind them. It's absolutely terrifying."

The report showed violence against principals had risen seven per cent in recent years - from 27 per cent in 2011 compared to 34 per cent in 2016.

And close to 50 per cent of principals revealed that last year, they had received threats at school.

Dennis Yarrington, 57, from Higgins, ACT, a former principal and now president of the Australian Primary Principals Association has experienced violence first hand.

"I was giving some bad news to a student that an activity wouldn't be happening, he then decided to lunge out at me," Mr Yarrington said.

"Fortunately I was able to move out of the way before another teacher and I intervened.

"I've been threatened by a parent standing very closely and then that parent has used social media to discredit and make comments about me."


Principals are battling to stay on top of increasing workloads.

He said it's these types of increasing incidents that cause poor health in principals as they try and deal with them, often without enough support.

"We need to say enough is enough and we need to turn this trend around."

Robert Nairn, 60, from Riverton, WA, executive director of the Australian Secondary Principals Association said it's alarming the issues are unchanged since 2011, when the first survey was done, and that violence is increasing.

Mr Nairn said the rise of violence is systematic of what is happening in society.

"As a school leader I've been verbally abused, my staff have been verbally abused, I've had incidents where I have been threatened," he said.

"There appears to be a growing lack of respect for principals, teachers...and this must be addressed."

Mr Nairn said schools and principals are asked to do more and more but without the additional support.

The report found that principals are experiencing workplace demands 1.5 times higher than the general population and that mental health issues associated with staff and students was increasing.

"This is an extra workload that wasn't around 10 or 15 years ago, principals are dealing with teachers coming in saying 'I just can't cope anymore'," Mr Yarrington said.

"Every time we ask a principal to take on another role or responsibility there's nothing coming off their plate."

The report reveals little is being done across the board to ease the burden school principals are carrying.

"What every school system in Australia needs to urgently address are the levels of burnout, stress and additional responsibility being loaded onto principals," Professor Riley said.

As a start he said he would like to see an attitude change towards principals.

"As a community I think we need to thank them."

He said there also needs to be a whole government response to the situation.

"If we improve the working conditions for principals and teachers we also improve the learning conditions for students, as the two are inseparable."