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Figures show violence to Principals not so significant in Catholic Schools

Posted on 4 March 2019
Figures show violence to Principals not so significant in Catholic Schools

While the headlines in the media highlight "Violence to Principals" as one of the key findings of the Annual Principal Health & Wellbeing Survey, the figures for our sector show this is not as significant at all. This is not to say that attention to violence is not an important issue for our colleagues in other sectors. What we would hope for is Sector Appropriate responses. The CaSPA survey to principals conducted in November - and with a far higher response rate than the National Well Being Survey -  indicated concerns with Governance, Work Load, Industrial Relations along with Trust and Valuing the Role of Principal as being the significant points of concern.

Below is an article from Education HQ which reports on the latest data from the Riley Well Being Project.  It is our hope to recieve Catholic Sector specific data from CCI in due course.  CCI are financial supporters of the  Annual Principal Health & Wellbeing Survey as part of their over all support for Principals and Teachers in Catholic Schools.


The Principal Health & Wellbeing Survey also found that nearly half of all principals were threatened with violence last year.

Worryingly, both numbers have risen significantly since the survey was first taken in 2011 and are far higher than the equivalent rates for the general population.

Associate Professor Philip Riley, the survey's chief investigator, said that the findings help to explain Australia's much-discussed leadership succession crisis.

"Clearly, our nation builders are under attack," he said.

"Consequently, fewer people are willing to step into the role. At a time when 70 per cent of school leaders will reach retirement age within 2-3 years, we are ignoring a looming national crisis."

Female school leaders were found to be more at risk of physical violence than males, with 40 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men reporting violent incidents last year.

There was also a very significant difference in the experience of school leaders by sector.

Forty-nine per cent of school leaders at government primary schools reported threats of violence, the highest of any category.

The lowest prevalence of threats was reported by P/K 12 independent school leaders, at 12 per cent.

Speaking to EducationHQ, Riley explained why there is such a large difference between the sectors.

"When you start to dig in, what's happening is there's a kind of pathway to government schools for the worst offending kids," he said.

"They start in all areas and then they gradually get removed from independent schools and from Catholic schools, they all eventually end up in government schools, so we have this slightly skewed set of figures by the time kids are a bit older.

"But all the anecdotal evidence I'm getting is pretty much 'it's ubiquitous', and even though the numbers are lower in Catholic and independent schools, they're still way too high.

"We do the same survey in Ireland and the rate there is only double the population rate. So there is something about our culture that makes it worse ... [Ireland has] lots of stresses and strains just like we do, but it doesn't turn into violent behaviour towards their school leaders."

Among many other alarming findings, 99.7 per cent of principals were found to work hours far beyond those recommended for positive mental and physical health.

One in three school leaders were identified as being so distressed that there was a serious threat to their physical and mental health.

The survey makes 15 recommendations to try and address these issues, with governments, employers, professional associations, unions, community members, individual educators and researchers all playing a part.

One key recommendation is the abolition of Australia's "antiquated, complex, obscure and difficult to traverse" school funding system.

"Australia should adopt a whole of government approach to education," Riley said.

"This would mean the Federal Government, states and territories combine to oversee a single education budget. The funding agreement should be bipartisan and a transparent mechanism which is simple to understand."

Professor John Fischetti from the University of Newcastle said the findings should "shock us into action" for two reasons.

"First, the experiences of our fantastic school leaders are becoming more 'United States-like,' where young people and their parents often take out their economic stresses and their sense of hopelessness for the role of education on those who are there to turn that around," Fischetti said.

"And, second, the boredom and lack of engagement of so many young people are not-so-silent cries out for a new design of schools based on learner passion not teacher-dominant pedagogies, rules and obsolete assessments."

Professor Jeffrey Brooks from RMIT University agreed that the survey should force policymakers to take action.

"The Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing for 2018 data confirms what we already know, but it raises the stakes - the alarming rise in violence against principals demands an urgent response at local and national levels," Brooks said.

"Working conditions for principals are a problem for several reasons. First, people in the positions now need immediate help in terms of wellbeing and safety.

"Second, principals influence quality teaching and student learning. If they are not well or pushed too hard, it will surely have a negative effect on our schools.

"Third, Australia needs a steady pipeline of high-quality leaders. This is a priority for all states, and if we aim to attract high quality candidates, they must know they will be supported and cared for."

However, Associate Professor Scott Eacott from the University of New South Wales believes the report does not go far enough in its recommendations.

"The recommendations do little to resolve this or other issues (such as increased threats of violence, and acts of violence)," he said.

"Instead, we have calls to depoliticise education, appeals to moral choice and trust, and asking people to be nice to one another."

"On face value these are well intentioned and desirable, and the data is persuasive, but the structure of Australian federalism, entrenched sector divides, and the customer based approach of many to schooling means that these are mere platitudes rather than the call to arms that is required."

In response, Riley defended the report and its recommendations.

"I can understand his frustration, but that doesn't mean that what I'm saying is not right. I mean my number one recommendation, which I think sort of agrees with him is that we need to take the politics out of education...

"What we need is something like a Reserve Bank, a government structure like the Reserve Bank where they can stand independent of government but clearly reporting to them, be given a global budget and then be responsible for the spending of that with long-term goals, and clearly aimed at a cultural shift, that we don't accept these sorts of terrible behaviours.

"So I think it's a bit rich to say it's a platitude to ask people to be nice to each other and I don't think I'm being naive, but I think we need a line in the sand where we say 'we're not going put up with this anymore.'"

Riley noted the results were reflective of the "volatile environment" that's playing out in wider society.

The survey's data is drawn from a remarkably large sample size.

In the eight years that it has run, the survey has collected data from roughly 50 per cent of Australia's 10,000 principals, with 2365 participating in 2018.

Tags: Governance wellbeing

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