26 Jun 2017

Alarm raised over principals' burnout rate

3:11 pm on 26 June 2017

Rural school principals are struggling to cope with the demands of their job and the Educational Institute says it wants more help for them.

Empty desks in school classroom

In some rural schools, principals are required to teach as well as manage the school. Photo: 123RF

The problem was highlighted at a recent meeting of principals who ran schools so small that they had to teach in the classroom as well as manage the school, the institute said.

One of the union's members, the principal of Waiototara school in Southern Taranaki, Jane Corcoran, told Nine to Noon many of the people at the meeting needed more help and advice.

"They were really stressed out. They were in situations that they just didn't know how to deal with, they didn't know how to cope. And there were real cries for help from these principals," she said.

Ms Corocoran said she was once told her farm was on fire, but could not leave the school because there was nobody else to take charge.

She said teaching principals had to respond to a lot of problems every day that used up time and forced them to take work home.

She said principals' workloads could be streamlined if some bureaucratic tasks were removed.

"My colleagues are stressed out, they're frustrated they're isolated. They feel like they're not being listened to," Ms Corcoran said.

The president of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), Lynda Stuart, said a recent survey found principals reported higher than average rates of stress, burn out and conflict between work and family time and the problem was worst for those in small, isolated schools.

Some of the principals' workload was providing duplicate information to different parts of the education system.

Ms Stuart said some of those at the meeting of teaching principals told her the job was becoming too hard and they were thinking of leaving.

"We can't afford for that to happen," she said.

"We need to be really looking after our principals, our leaders, our teachers."

Ms Stuart said the Education Ministry provided 20 advisors to work with principals, but that was not enough.

The ministry's head of early learning and student achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid, said principals should not be under unacceptable levels of stress and burnout.

"Any principal who is struggling and would like support should get in touch with our regional staff who are willing and available to help."

Ms MacGregor-Reid said rural schools received extra operational funding to recognise isolation, and extra staffing to ensure they could cover the whole curriculum for older age groups.

She said schools could arrange emergency back up so that somebody could take over if a sole-charge principal needed to leave their work because of an emergency.

She said the NZEI's survey of principals also found principals were generally positive about their job and reported higher job satisfaction than the wider population.