Principal health, safety & wellbeing – time to take a stand!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 4, 5 June 2020, page no. 17
The recently published Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2019 reveals record numbers of school principals facing stress and burnout, as well as high levels of threats and physical violence by parents and students.
These results do not even capture the added stress and burden the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it. The continuing upward trend in principals’ health and safety concerns is unacceptable. We need to start changing the culture and calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it.
The survey reported that more than 84 per cent of school leaders reported being subjected to an offensive behaviour over the past year, while 51 per cent reported threats of violence, and more than 42 per cent being exposed to physical violence. Most school leaders (69.5 per cent) reported having been subjected to two or more types of offensive behaviour in the past 12 months. Compared to the general population, a much higher percentage of school leaders reported being subjected to threats of violence, physical violence, bullying, conflicts and quarrels, and gossip and slander.
The survey’s recommendations have remained relatively unchanged since 2016 and form the backbone of the QTU Principal Support and Involvement Strategy, and the first five recommendations in particular. These call for:
- a whole of government approach
- an end to short-termism
- a reduction in job demands or an increase in resources
- trusting in educators
- collaborating with associations.
Reducing workload and taking back time
The QTU’s Education Leaders’ Committee is writing a submission on behalf of school leaders to the Workload Advisory Council, the new body formed as a result of the Union’s EB9 negotiations, but if you want to make your own submission, register your interest in making a submission by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with a list of members involved in writing the submission and a brief summary (50 words max) of your workload pressure/workload reduction initiative. QTU Officers will review your summary and help to connect you with members throughout the state who may have similar interests.
One recent issue has been the positive impact of COVID-19 on the number of meetings. Anecdotally, a number of principals have commented that the consequent reduction in meetings has enabled them to concentrate more on school business.
Health and safety - occupational violence
In October 2018, the department implemented the Occupational Violence Prevention Procedure, which claims a zero tolerance approach to occupational violence and defines occupational violence as: “Any action, incident, or behaviour that departs from reasonable conduct in which a person is threatened, harmed, injured by another person in the course of, or as a direct result of his or her work.”
The department’s approved method for reporting these incidents is the MyHR WH&S Incident Reporting Module, so if the survey statistics are accurate we should be seeing similar reports here. This is not the case, and it is something that needs to be addressed.
Why aren’t these incidents being formally reported?
The two most common responses are:
- “I didn’t know I should”
- “My name will be attached to it and I don’t want to be perceived as not being able to do my job”.
Both of these responses highlight significant cultural and procedural issues which need to be addressed by the employer. At the end of 2019, the department held the Safe and Respectful School Community Roundtable, bringing together 50 stakeholders and experts in occupational violence. The QTU was involved in the planning and development stages and ensured the inclusion of practising principals and teachers. The second phase was due to take place at the end of Term 1, but COVID-19 had other plans. Discussions are occurring to ensure it takes place in the near future.
The QTU continues to advocate and campaign for:
- the department to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to parental violence toward staff in schools and to support school leaders when dealing with vexatious and harassing parents and community members
- a whole of government approach to addressing reduction of violence in schools
- provision of more alternative models for students at risk.
For instance, in 2019 the department initiated work on developing the yet-to-be-released“Principal Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2020 – 2022”. During the development discussions, the QTU lobbied hard for a “complex matters unit” to assist principals in dealing with parents who are impacting on their wellbeing.
Addressing workload and occupational violence for our school leader members is complex and requires commitment, culture changes and advocacy. The QTU will continue to campaign in this area.