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Stress and long hours for school leaders at all-time high

18 February 2019

More than a quarter of primary school principals and leaders are working more than 61 hours per week. And the teacher shortage, which is impacting on class sizes and students' education, is the fastest growing source of stress for school leaders (a 71% increase since 2016).

New research on workload, hours of work and sources of stress on school leaders’ health and wellbeing conducted from August to November 2018 [1] shows that school leaders are working long hours and are significantly more stressed than the general population. This trend has worsened since the same survey was first conducted in 2016.

Long hours worked are at an all-time high, with seventy-two percent of school leaders having worked between 41–60 hours per week on average. The remaining 27.3 percent work more than 61 hours per week, which is the highest proportion of respondents reporting that result since the survey began.

Bunnythorpe Primary School principal Margie Sutherland resigned from her much-loved job last September due to the impact it was having on her health. As a teaching principal, she was the sole adult on site for most of the school week and was so stretched that she felt she wasn't able to give her 25 students a quality education.

"I can totally relate to the findings of this report. Principals and school leaders are working themselves into the ground trying to ensure every child gets a quality education, while managing every aspect of running a school in the midst of a severe teacher shortage.

"People like me who love the job are being driven out of teaching and leadership to save our own health," she said.

The teacher shortage is creating a lot of extra work for school leaders who must scramble to fill vacancies and find relievers to cover illness - often having to take a class themselves, which puts them further behind on their other work.

An NZEI phone survey of 500 principals in the first two weeks of term found that 10% of schools were short one or two teachers. 69.3% of principals considered that it would be difficult or very difficult to find suitable relieving staff this year.

Reported sources of stress in the leadership survey include: teacher shortages, quantity of work, lack of time to teach or lead, resourcing needs, and student-related issues.

School leaders have significantly higher work demands than the general population (between 16% - 74% higher) and no score on any measure has decreased since 2016.

The report recommends a number of solutions to improve systemic and professional support for school leaders, including increased leadership staffing for schools, mentoring and more time and opportunities to engage with professional support networks.

[1] The data reported on is a subset of the results of the third iteration of the New Zealand Primary School Principals’ Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey (2018), conducted on behalf of the New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa, by a team at the Australian Catholic University, led by Associate Professor Phillip Riley, a former school principal and a registered psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.


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