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School Principals Subjected To Violence In Australia

More than 40 percent had been exposed to violence and 30 percent were flagged as at risk of self-harm.

BRISBANE, Australia — An alarming number of school principals were threatened with violence or were victims of physical violence in the past year.

Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2020, conducted jointly by researchers at the Australian Catholic University and Deakin University, reveals that school principals across Australia were subjected to offensive behavior. Out of 100, 83 principals were ranging from gossip to violence and bullying.

“Long work hours and constant exposure to stress during 2020 had left school principals exhausted,” said Professor Herb Marsh, co-chief investigator of the survey, ACU Institute for Positive Psychology and Education.

A total of 2248 principals across all states and territories were surveyed. One of the key findings was in relation to offensive behavior toward school principals, including – threats of violence or being victims of physical violence, sexual harassment, bullying, unpleasant teasing, conflicts and quarrels, gossip and slander, and cyberbullying.

As per the survey conducted in 2020, bushfires, floods, and then the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted hugely on the stress and workload of school leaders. Almost all principals reported they had worked overtime, and close to 70 percent reported working more than 56 hours a week during the school term and 25 hours a week during holidays.

A Police Officer (left) and Ormeau State School Deputy Principal Ben Manthey (right) are seen directing parents of school children at a road block on Mirambeena Drive at Ormeau on the Gold Coast, Monday, March 16, 2021. (AAP Image/Darren England)

“The main sources of stress were the sheer quantity of work, the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, the mental health issues of students, and the expectations of the employer,” said Prof Marsh.

More than 40 percent of the principals surveyed reported being exposed to threats of violence or being a victim of physical violence during 2020. The rate is up to nine times greater than the general population.

The report’s authors noted that some categories of offensive behaviors dropped in 2020 due to the pandemic and reduced face-to-face contact with parents.

During the 10-year lifespan of the survey, there has been a steady increase in bullying, physical violence, slander, sexual harassment, threats of violence, and verbal harassment toward principals.

Almost 30 percent of school leaders were red-flagged during the survey period as at risk of self-harm – after they reported they had thoughts of hurting themselves in the previous week, or they had the quality of life risks.

“The coronavirus pandemic required principals to work quickly to set up online learning along with managing COVID-19 safe practices at schools,” said Professor Phil Riley, the co-chief investigator from Deakin University.

“Although schools were classed as essential services and told to stay open to protect the economy, they were not privy to vital information. Particularly at the start of COVID-19, school leaders had to listen to the news to find out what to do with their schools’ operations,” he added.

In the report’s 10th year, the survey tracks trends and makes policy recommendations. Hence, the report’s authors made 16 recommendations for future action and reported an urgent need to establish an independent task force to investigate offensive behavior in schools thoroughly.

The recommendation includes the implementation of a holistic governmental approach to education, frequent online meetings with parents and guardians, and thresholds that may work as the key to administering limited resources.

(Edited by Sid Roy and Pallavi Mehra)