The most tragi-comic finding in this year’s Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey was around the reduction in physical threats to school principals.
Physical threats reported were way down but it wasn’t due to a change in attitudes, COVID meant that there was physical separation between parents and school principals.
The rest of the report was its usual unsettling read, and being a school principal remains one of the most stressful, dangerous professions you can pursue.
In response, school principal associations from all over the country joined together to form the Coalition of Australian Principals (CAP) which will be a unified voice for principals and seek to make the experience of the job more bearable, providing support through community and research.
There was obvious demand for an umbrella group representing principals given the CAP came together in a matter of months.
“The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey has been running for 10 years. One of its recommendations is that principals speak with one voice. The focus of CAP is on principal wellbeing and school leadership,” says Malcom Elliott president of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA).
“The wellbeing report shows that work continues to intensify for school leaders. While good work on this and related issues is happening around the country there is much still to be done. Principals want the time to be much more involved in oversight of teaching and learning. There is also clear and disturbing widespread and enduring evidence of abuse directed at teachers and school leaders which must stop.”
So, what can be done about the pressure on principals and the danger they face in their jobs? Elliott believes that the solution lies in research and community.
“A national strategy inclusive of research and clear, direct messaging must underpin our work going forward. Clearly, principals are chronically overworked, pressured and emotionally burdened. This reality does not create inviting circumstances for aspiring leaders.
“Our principals love their work and accept that they must willingly put their shoulders to the wheel in the interests of our young Australians and the future of our nation – indeed, the world community. But there are limits to what they can do under the extreme pressures they deal with in their work and these have been reached.”
Each of the participating principal associations will develop its own policy and strategy around a wide range of issues. The Coalition, which is not a formally constituted body, meets periodically to share perspectives and to explore points of consensus.
“It is on these points of consensus that CAP will speak. The wellbeing report and its recommendations are a clear focus for CAP. The Coalition is very pleased to have the support of Federal Minister Alan Tudge,” Elliott says.
CAP is working with SchoolTV on a communication medium called Broadcast. The plan is to communicate with all members of member associations via Broadcast which will be used to conduct, report and discuss research.
“Principals can register for free. There are no costs. We will use this as the medium for national discussion, across sectors, in the interests of school leadership support and development. We have a research agreement with Professor Riley and his team and will raise funds to underpin this work. It will be rigorous, leadership specific research,” Elliott says.
“The research will support leaders in their daily work. It will also inform associations in their policy and strategic considerations. It will provide research from the front lines of the principalship to take to the Australian community.”
SchoolTV presenter Dr Michael Carr-Gregg will be the personality that will appear on Broadcast and School TV, he says; “Broadcast represents a strategic support initiative, developed under CAP, to unify those representing our valued school leaders and their wellbeing. Broadcast establishes an ongoing and much needed wellbeing bridge between all associations and their school leaders. It builds community and conversation on major issues and provides a combined resource to broadly research a measure ongoing mental and physical health.”
The CAP has an eye on the future of the profession and it is fully aware that in its present form a principalship is a hard sell to younger educators.
“The nation must get behind the profession of teaching. It must support its school leaders. It must demonstrate that it holds its school leaders and teachers in high esteem. Given the opportunity to flourish, school leaders inspire others and are the key to successful schools and national social, economic and democratic development,” Elliott says.