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‘The job is more complicated than ever’: Why teachers are thinking twice about taking on the top job

This left the management aspects of the role to be completed in the evenings and on the weekend.

“This is the sacrifice we make for a job we love,” the 62-year-old said.

Keysborough Gardens Primary School students with principal Phil Anthony

Keysborough Gardens Primary School students with principal Phil AnthonyCredit:Dee Smith

Principals experience more job demands, and higher levels of stress symptoms, sleep difficulties, depressive symptoms and burnout than the general population, the annual Australian Principal Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey has consistently showed.

RMIT University’s Jeff Brooks said a principal’s job had become more complicated than ever.

“Principals have always worked long hours and had to make difficult decisions but now even the smallest decisions are often a matter of great debate,” he said.

A recently released global study by the OECD found almost two-thirds of Australian principals said their high workload and responsibilities substantially limited their effectiveness.

The survey found that Australian principals spent just over a third of their time on administrative tasks and meetings, and less time observing classes, mentoring teachers and being involved in student evaluations than the OECD average.

If they had more money, they would reduce teachers’ administrative load by recruiting more support staff, as well as reduce class sizes, the the Teaching and Learning International Survey found.

Monash University’s Fiona Longmuir did her PhD on principalship in Victorian secondary schools. Her survey of recently retired principals found the job had become tougher.

“A major difference has been increases in policy compliance requirements as well as measurement and competition pressures,” said Dr Longmiur. “Increases in expectations and challenges from parents were also often mentioned.”

Dr Longmuir said other stressors were the degeneration of trust in schools, reductions in support from education departments, and difficulties in trying to balance work, home life and health.

According to the OECD study, the average Australian secondary school principal is male, aged 51, highly educated, and had worked as a teacher for 23 years before taking on the top job.


Veteran educator Phil Anthony said the next generation was “quite rightly thinking carefully about stepping into this type of lifestyle”.

He said the solution was greater resourcing, redirecting funding to school leadership position, and shifting thinking of the role of the principals, he said.

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