25 Jan 2017

Burnt-out primary principals working 50 hours a week

6:59 am on 25 January 2017
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Three in four primary school principals work more than 51 hours per week, feel stressed and cannot balance work with family life, a survey has found. Photo: 123rf.com

A new survey shows many primary school principals work long weeks and feel burned out.

It has been published by the Educational Institute, and surveyed 398 principals throughout the country.

It found almost three in four principals work more than 51 hours per week. Many believe they have a terrible work-family life balance and feel stressed.

The rate of burnout is 1.7 times more than the general population. It is higher in rural and isolated areas.

Rikki Sheterline is the principal of Turaki Primary in King Country. The school has a roll of about 200.

He worked between 60 and 70 hours per week and said the stress was increasing.

"There is more of a focus on making sure that we're compliant - health and safety is a big issue now and with the change in legislation there's a lot more paperwork," he said.

"There's a lot of appraisal work for us, and one thing that makes a difference is the expectation of the government in terms of the paperwork they require.

"In schools of my size and in rural areas a lot of that responsibility falls on the principal - the board of trustees delegate that work to us."

This, and other responsibilities, made him feel burnt out - but he loves his job.

"I've often said that if I won Lotto the only day you wouldn't see me is Monday - on Monday I'd be picking up my money and I'd be back at school on Tuesday," he said.

"It's the kids and staff and community that make this job what it is - there are peaks and troughs, although recently it seems like there are only peaks in terms of the intensity of the expectations."

Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart said appraisal and assessment paperwork was stacking up and schools were not given enough time to adjust to new curriculums.

"The focus of the Government has been on ensuring the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, but they haven't put with it the resourcing that is needed," she said.

If principals felt this way, teachers would too.

The problem was not limited to primary schools, Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said.

PPTA President Angela Roberts

Angela Roberts Photo: PPTA

Secondary school teachers dealt with increasing bureaucracy, such as having to keep more records and provide more paperwork, to prove their competence.

"It isn't just a 9am-3pm job like a lot of people think - there are seven different agencies that can put work on our desk ... without having to take responsibility for making sure schools have adequate resources," she said.

"It is getting to the point where something has got to give."

The Ministry of Education said the problem was being fixed.

"Principals... are now able to have access to an educational expert who can act as a support, mentor or advisor," it said in a statement.

"We're offering support to first-time principals with 20 full-time mentors available across the country."

It said more than half of schools had formed themselves into groups called Communities of Learning, and worked together to address workload issues.

"Primary principals in New Zealand overall do a very good job.

"We welcome the survey's findings that primary principals and deputies are generally positive about their job and report high job satisfaction."

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