A survey of Australia’s school principals has found last year’s ravaging bushfires, followed by shock floods and the Covid-19 global pandemic, had an immense impact on their stress and workload.
The researchers said the survey shone a light on “a year like no other” for school leaders, who had been faced with multiple, previously unimagined, challenges. Extremely long work hours and constant exposure to stress during 2020 had left principals exhausted, the study found.
More than 2,000 school principals were surveyed
The Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2020 study was jointly conducted by researchers at Deakin University and the Australian Catholic University (ACU). It surveyed 2,248 school principals across all states and the territories.
“During 2020, almost all principals (97 percent) worked overtime and close to 70 percent worked more than 56 hours a week during school term and 25 hours a week during the holidays,” said Professor Herb Marsh of the ACU.
“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.”
Almost 30 percent were identified as being ‘at risk’
He noted that during the survey period, three of out 10 principals (almost 30 percent) received a red-flag email alerting them to contact employee support services. These alert emails are triggered when school leaders are at risk of self-harm, occupational health problems or serious impacts to their quality of life.
Professor Phil Parker, also of the ACU, added: “Over the past decade, principals report a steady increase in job demands with no real increase in support services. The surveys have shown us that school leaders need support to maintain a healthy work-life balance.”
Deakin University’s Professor Phil Riley said the survey highlighted the unprecedented challenges of 2020. “Last year was one of unimaginable horrors for Australians and the global pandemic had a life-altering effect on us all,” he stated.
Online learning methods had to be quickly developed
“As well as needing to quickly develop online learning practices, school principals were faced with managing Covid-safe processes to protect their employees, students and parents from a global pandemic.
“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.” However, Professor Riley said there was a bright spot, “The survey has shown us the pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions reminded communities about the vital role school leaders play. Ironically, Covid-19 could herald a positive shift in community attitudes towards school principals.”