School principals are taking out restraining orders against violent and aggressive students and parents, amid rising numbers of school leaders being threatened, and assaulted while at work.  School leaders are almost 10 times more likely to be physically assaulted at work than the general population, with women employed at government primary schools the most at risk, according to new research on principals’ working conditions.  According to the latest Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, 45% of principals experienced threats of violence during 2018, while 37% were subjected to acts of physical violence.  Students and parents were the most common perpetrators.

A further 35% of principals claimed they had been bullied, most often by parents.  Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott, said he knew of principals who had sought restraining orders to protect themselves, or their colleagues, from “unacceptable threats, intimidation and violence.  It’s a right available to them under law.”  Mr Elliott said he learnt early on in his own career “not to tolerate abusive behaviour” and would “order people off the school premises”.  More school leaders should consider the legal options available to them, he said.

The survey, conducted by the Australian Catholic University involving more than 2300 principals and deputy principals in public and private schools across all jurisdictions, has revealed a considerable increase in the number of principals dealing with offensive behaviour since data collection began in 2011.  Government primary schools reported the highest prevalence of violent threats at 49%, while 40% of female principals, compared with 32% of males, experienced violence.  Principals reported being punched, kicked, head-butted, bitten, spat at, stabbed with scissors or pencils and having school furniture flung at them.

One principal said they had been “stalked by car, tailgated” by parents of a student, while another said they had developed post-traumatic stress disorder after having a student point a gun at them.  Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said improving the respect shown to teachers and principals needed to be an “absolute priority” but it was largely in the hands of the states and school systems.  “Principals and teachers should be safe in their workplace and their employers are responsible for that safety,” he said.  “Improving the working conditions of teachers and principals will lead to better results for our school kids.”

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said violence experienced by school principals was “completely unacceptable” and called on families to ensure they supported school discipline. “We must show teachers and principals proper respect and get our children to do the same,” she said.  The survey’s author, Australian Catholic University professor of psychology Philip Riley, said although school leaders experienced a higher rate of offensive behaviour at work, tackling the issue was not easy.  Dr Riley recommends a “whole new government approach” to education, transparency over the education budget, and policymakers resisting “short-term, quick fixes”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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