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Primary school leaders suffering stress and burnout

Primary school leaders suffering stress and burnout

25 January 2016

An independent, in-depth health and wellbeing survey of primary school principals and deputies has uncovered high levels of stress, burnout, excessive workloads and a lack of professional support from the Ministry of Education and school boards.

NZEI Te Riu Roa commissioned the study by Australian Catholic University because of anecdotal reports in the sector that increased workload was putting principals and other school leaders under greater stress and risk of burnout.

The extensive online survey was completed late last year by 398 primary principals (20% of the total) and 145 deputy and assistant principals.

Key findings:

· Approximately 72% of school leaders work more than 51 hours per week during term, with 25% working more than 61 hours a week. Even during the term break, half worked more than 25 hours a week.

· The greatest reported cause of stress is the sheer quantity of work, closely followed by a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning. Given the government’s stated focus on teaching and learning, the lack of resourcing and funding to allow principals to lead in this area is a major problem.

· The third-highest reported cause of stress was “government initiatives”.

· Work-family conflict is far too high, at 2.2 times the rate of the general population.

· Burnout of school leaders is 1.7 times the general population, but significantly higher in rural and isolated areas where there is less professional support.

· School leaders score less than the general population on all positive measures of health and wellbeing and higher on all negative measures.

NZEI President Lynda Stuart said the results were very worrying.

“The report found that school leaders are hardworking and intrinsically motivated but face considerable pressure in their roles, most often from increasing workload caused by new government initiatives. The stress of trying to budget to meet the needs of every student despite increasingly inadequate funding must also play a part.

“Survey respondents reported very little professional support from their boards of trustees, which employ them, or from the Ministry of Education. Those who felt supported in their role were finding support from their personal networks instead,” she said.

“This situation is not sustainable and places significant health risks on the people leading our schools. It’s now a major health and safety risk that the government must address.”

“The ministry must be more proactive and we really need to look at workload as a priority, because the bureaucracy and paperwork is getting out of control. When principals are unable to spend adequate time focussing on students’ teaching and learning, that’s not good for our children’s education.”

Ms Stuart also supported the report’s recommendation of opportunities for leaders to engage in regular support networks, mentoring and provision of time to access support, as well as targeted professional support.

Australian Catholic University has been running similar longitudinal studies of school leaders in Australia and Ireland for a number of years and the New Zealand survey will now be conducted annually so trends can be studied over time.

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