Education department gets F for protecting school principals

The number, complexity and pace of government initiatives is taking its toll on Victoria’s school principals, ranking as their third highest source of stress.

Andrew Greaves

That’s among the findings of an audit which found the Department of Education is failing to protect the health and wellbeing of the state’s more than 3,500 school principals.

“Principals particularly express frustration at what they consider to be inadequate consultation from the department on the amount of time and resources that they need to implement initiatives,” the report says.

The report says principals have worse health and wellbeing than the general population, with many experiencing stress, burnout and poor sleep.

They are also battling mental health issues more often than other school staff, with mental health claims making up half of all workers comp claims between 2015 and 2021.

“The department is not effectively protecting the health and wellbeing of its school principals,” Auditor General Andrew Greaves says.

Chronic overwork

Excessive workload is the leading source of stress for principals, followed by a lack of time to focus on teaching. Mental health issues among students came in at number four.

Victoria’s 3,424 principals are collectively responsible for 645,400 students and work an average 55 hour week during the school term, and 21 hours per week during school hours.

“Workload is the most significant cause of poor principal health and wellbeing,” Mr Greaves found.

“Administrative tasks, compliance obligations and government initiatives are disproportionately contributing to principals’ workloads. Many principals work long hours, which impacts their health and wellbeing.”

Principals cited increased OHS requirements, increases in general administration and changing government expectations of their role as contributing to their workload.

Complex student behaviours, increased pressure from parents and growing student enrolments and staff numbers were also listed as stressors.

Mitigation strategies not working

Mr Greaves says the department has delivered many strategies and initiatives to mitigate the challenges faced by principals.

However, these aren’t working because they focus on getting principals to do the same amount of work more efficiently, rather than easing the load.

Principal health and wellbeing outcomes have not improved since the department started implementing a range of initiatives in 2018, the report says.

The report says principals have welcomed new services including advice, templates and streamlined processes.

But what they really need is more opportunities to delegate some of the administration.

The department also needs to do better at evaluating and monitoring health and wellbeing outcomes for school heads, the report says.

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