A survey of school principals across Australia has revealed that 83 in 100 principals were subjected to offensive behaviour toward them, ranging from gossip to violence and bullying.
The survey found that in 2020, bushfires, floods and then the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted hugely on the stress and workload of school leaders.
The disturbing results are contained in the Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2020, which was conducted jointly by researchers at the Australian Catholic University and Deakin University.
The study surveyed 2248 principals across all states and territories. Now in its 10th year the survey tracks trends and makes policy recommendations.
One of the key findings was in relation to offensive behaviour toward school principals including – threats of violence or being victims of physical violence, sexual harassment, bullying, unpleasant teasing, conflicts and quarrels, gossip and slander and cyber bullying.
More than 40 per cent of the principals surveyed reported being exposed to threats of violence or being a victim of physical violence during 2020. This is up to nine times greater than the general population.
The report’s authors noted that some categories of offensive behaviours dropped in 2020, due to the pandemic and reduced face-to-face contact with parents.
But during the 10-year lifespan of the survey there has been a steady increase in bullying, physical violence, slander, sexual harassment, threats of violence and verbal harassment toward principals.
Almost 30 per cent of school leaders were ‘red-flagged’ during the survey period as at risk of self-harm – after they reported they had thoughts of hurting themselves in the previous week or they had quality of life risks.
Co-chief investigator of the survey, Professor Herb Marsh, from the ACU Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, said long work hours and constant exposure to stress during 2020 had left school principals exhausted.
Almost all principals said they had worked overtime and close to 70 per cent reported working more than 56 hours a week during school term and 25 hours a week during holidays.
“The main sources of stress were the sheer quantity of work, the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, the mental health issues of students and the expectations of the employer,” Prof Marsh said.
The coronavirus pandemic required principals to work quickly to set up online learning along with managing COVID-safe practices at schools, co-chief investigator, Professor Phil Riley, from Deakin University, said.
“Although schools were classed as essential services and told to stay open to protect the economy, they were not privy to vital information. Particularly at the start of COVID-19, school leaders had to listen to the news to find out what to do with their schools’ operations,” Prof Riley said.
The report’s authors made 16 recommendations for future action and said there was an urgent need to establish an independent taskforce to fully investigate offensive behaviour in schools.
Australian Associated Press