By Penny Timms
The level of stress and violence Australian principals are exposed to is continuing to grow, according to a national survey of the heads of independent and state-run schools.
Increased workloads, threats of violence from parents, and a lack of support staff have prompted warnings that without proper intervention, the industry could see principals leave.
Phil Seymour, the principal of Hayes Park Public School near Wollongong, said while he was thankful he had never been physically attacked on the job, he had still witnessed some worrying incidents.
“We did have one tough one, years ago, when FACS (Department of Family and Community Services) came into withdraw children from their parents, on the school site,” Mr Seymour said.
“The father found out about it and was there and we had to call the police in the end — it was really not something you’d like to go through every day.”
Mr Seymour, who has been teaching for four decades — half of that as a principal — said a constantly increasing workload meant he was spending more time filling out paperwork, which was leading to stress.
“The stress related to mental health issues have certainly grown in the time I’ve been a principal, or in teaching,” he said.
Threats from parents on the rise.
Mr Seymour’s experience fits with the findings of the annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, released today.
The survey, now in its sixth year and completed by two thirds of school principals, found the number of participants reporting being threatened was up 6 per cent from 38 per cent in 2011.
Dennis Yarrington, president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, said many threats came from the parents of students.
“We’ve seen, and certainly I have seen, where people become angry and just revert to violence or threats of violence,” Mr Yarrington said.
“People are starting to use social media to bully or intimidate principals because either a decision hasn’t gone their way or something has happened and they’re not happy.”
According to Mr Yarrington, without better support services principals will leave the industry or worse.
“Initially you are certainly emotionally upset, but at the same time you put on a brave face because a school wants to see their principal is able to deal with these things,” he said.
“What happens is principals will go home and if they’ve got a supportive family or network they’re able to debrief and express some of that frustration and anger out in appropriate ways.