‘Their perception is that staff or supervisors will see the principal undertaking counselling as a sign of weakness and as a result, many struggle through a school or work related crisis without seeking help.’
– Dr Kathy Lacey.


A new report has revealed that the wellbeing of primary school principals is being eroded thanks to limited access to independent counselling services.
The report was commissioned by the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA), which represents more than 7000 principals at government and non-government primary schools including almost two million students.
The report, entitled Maintaining, Sustaining and Refueling Leaders , was commissioned by APPA and undertaken by Dr Kathy Lacey of the Melbourne-based Right Angles Consulting Pty Ltd.
This followed an APPA survey of more than 2600 primary principals around Australia.
The Lacey Report used focus groups to survey a representative group of principals from government, independent and catholic primary schools. The National President of APPA, Ms Leonie Trimper, says the findings indicate that many principals face serious work-related problems that affect their health and wellbeing.
‘The report shows that many principals fear using existing non-independent counselling services with a number paying for private counseling,’ she said. ‘Clearly, this report shows there is an urgent need for many employers to review the support services and resources that are available to principals.’
Dr Lacey’s report indicated that principals around Australia required discreet, private access to employer-funded but independent counselling. ‘Often they are not even aware of the existing counselling services and resources and the help that is available to them,’ Dr Lacey said.
‘As a general rule, Catholic primary schools provide the most help for principals – especially in the areas of paid sabbaticals, access to counselling, paid and supported study leave and heath check leave.
‘Government primary schools come a poor second, with independent primary schools even further behind. ‘Overall, it is ironic that schools place an emphasis on student pastoral care, yet this care doesn’t appear to extend to the principal.’
And where counselling does exist, most principals say they won’t use the facilities because their privacy cannot be guaranteed.
‘Their perception is that staff or supervisors will see the principal undertaking counselling as a sign of weakness and as a result many struggle through a school or work related crisis without seeking help,’ Dr Lacey said.
‘In many instances, principals who rarely seek proactive counselling, pay for external and independent counselling in times of crisis from their own pocket rather than show any sign of perceived weakness to others.’
Another interesting aspect of the report’s findings related to the strong need for principals in all sectors to have more access to paid sabbatical leave.
‘Principals do not want more annual or long service leave,’ Dr Lacey says. ‘They want paid sabbatical leave so they can study new developments in education.
‘This time away from the relentlessness of the intensity of demands on principals would provide time to mentally refuel.’
The full report, Maintaining, Sustaining and Refueling Leaders , can be viewed on the APPA website www.appa.asn.au