Supporting the independent education community

At risk: What principals face


We invite your response to the latest report on school leaders’ health, safety and wellbeing.

The latest Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, released in May 2020 (based on 2019 data), reveals principals are struggling with burnout, stress, sleeping trouble and violence or threats of violence from students.


“Principals are exhausted – they’re trying to keep in touch with so many people; they've got staff they’re worried about, kids they’re worried about, and they have to do it one-to-one which takes a lot more time,” said Professor Philip Riley, one of the researchers on the report, in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 May 2020.


And that’s just for starters. This year, many principals began the year with students traumatised by bushfires, then came the coronavirus pandemic, which necessitated an almost overnight shift from conventional classroom teaching and learning to an online model. On the upside, many are reporting increased respect from parents during this phase.


Some of the findings from the 2019 survey of 2385 school leaders include:

  • Working hours: an average of about 55.2 hours a week during term; some 97.3 per cent reported working more than 40 hours a week, and 72.4 per cent reported working more than 50 hours a week.
  • Workload: School leaders consistently report the sheer quantity of work, a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, and student mental health, as their main sources of stress.
  • Mental health: Referring to students and staff, this has become an increasing source of stress for principals in recent years, reaching its highest level in 2019.
  • Violence: 21.8 per cent of principals in Catholic schools and 12.6 per cent in independent schools report having been subjected to violent behaviour from students.
  • Threats: 33 per cent of Catholic sector principals and 20 per cent of independent school principals reported being threatened with violence.

The report, compiled by researchers at the Australian Catholic University and Deakin University, through an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant and with support from Teachers Health and the Australian Primary Principals Association, is in its seventh iteration after inception in 2011 (a single report covered 2011-14; it has been annual since then).


The IEU would like to hear from you about this report. Do the findings reflect your experience? How would you like to see key issues remedied? We invite you to email us and we’ll report your impressions in a subsequent issue of Newsmonth.