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May 2023

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety, and Wellbeing Survey 2022 has been released, receiving more media attention than ever. The survey highlights the ongoing stress experienced by principals and school leaders, with many recording their highest levels. It also highlights the highest percentage of principals and school leaders reporting physical violence since the survey's inception.


Particularly alarming is that the measures associated with job satisfaction, commitment to the work, and the meaning of work are at their lowest point ever. These are the ‘moral purpose’ reasons have steered school communities through fires, floods, and a pandemic in recent years. Principals may be losing heart for the first time. This should be a wake-up call for all Australians to pay attention to the health and well-being of our school leaders, who have such a critical role to play in shaping the future of our children, and our country.


ASPA commends the Australian Catholic University's Institute for Positive Psychology and Education's work on this matter and sees these findings as symptomatic of the same issues underpinning Australia's declining academic standing, urgent teacher shortages, as well as the decline in student wellbeing in student well-being as indicated by PISA’s measures for Australian 15-year-olds over almost two decades. It is clear that schools and school leaders face increasing complexity and expectations from governments and communities without a coherent and effective resourcing model in response.


We also see the need for a national conversation about what schools and school leaders should be responsible for, and what responsibility should be taken by families, communities, and other agencies. Australian government schools carry the overwhelming burden of educating and caring for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged students. It is unacceptable that we ask our school leaders to bear this burden without providing them with the necessary support and resources to do so.


We urge an intervention on the part of all Australian Governments to address these issues. ASPA suggests the development of a National Principal’s Health & Wellbeing, Engagement, and Retention strategy to expand on the 2022 National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. This would be a reasonable first step and will be essential if the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s Review of the National School Reform Agreement (chapter 8) are to be implemented effectively. It will also be necessary to meet AITSL expectations for a healthy and sustainable workforce, and if we ultimately want a happy, healthy, and successful future for our children.


The challenges facing our school leaders are significant, and the need for a national conversation about the future of education in Australia is urgent if we are to sustain principals on the job. It is time for all Australians to come together and work towards a common goal of providing our children with the best possible education, and to support the health and wellbeing of those who are responsible for delivering it.

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