In a survey of 321 primary school principals, more than a third (37%) have indicated signs of significant distress as a result of their position.

This category of school leaders raised ‘red flags’ by answering questions that indicated they are thinking of self-harming, they have a high combined score across categories, or a series of quality of life indicators that are concerning. Some survey respondents indicated signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The annual health and wellbeing survey, conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Australian Catholic University, showed that primary school leaders are struggling more than ever. In 2016, the red flag percentage was 20 percent.

Balmoral School principal Malcolm Milner says it is a “sad situation”.

“We should be very concerned as we want to enable people to make good decisions and be positive with children and if there are roadblocks such as these we need to support them.”

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick says a major contributor to stress and workload for principals is the teacher shortage.

“Teacher supply issues are directly impacting principals’ ability to lead learning and manage the day-to-day operation of their schools.

“The challenges are everywhere. I’ve recently heard from four Invercargill principals who have been teaching fulltime in the classroom for the past eight weeks. You can’t lead the teaching and learning when you’re in the classroom fulltime,” says Cormick.

The survey comes after a recent report which revealed widespread problems with filling vacancies and getting relievers.

NZSTA President Lorraine Kerr says it comes as no surprise to boards of trustees that principals are under stress. The NZSTA has been working with principals’ groups, teacher unions and Ministry officials on strategies to resolve the workload and resourcing issues.
While some issues are being addressed in the context of collective bargaining, Kerr believes that the underlying causes are systemic and also need to be addressed in the current Tomorrow’s Schools review.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart is frustrated that action has still not been taken on these issues.

“We have made long lists of recommendations, but so far nothing has changed much; in fact it has become worse, as this shows,” Stuart says of the survey.

Researcher Associate Professor Phil Riley says that senior leaders in schools need help, and the education system needs a whole re-design and to come up with creative solutions such as job-sharing.

The survey comes after concerns over an increase in the number of principals leaving their positions.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh recently told The Daily Post there’s been “an exodus of principals from positions” and that many assistant and deputy principals did not have the desire to become principal as they see firsthand the workload and stress that comes with the job.


  1. I am old – parents, grandparents and many siblings were teachers – I had a go of it my self for about a year. My father was a headmaster and school inspector. To understand these modern problems you only need to compare teaching with what it used to be. In days of old teachers only had to teach normal children – “special need” children simply weren’t there. They were looked after in institutions or simply had to stay at home with their parents. It is an outright delight to teach a class of normal children. It is torture to be confronted with children who do not know how to be, or who simply cannot be, obedient – and on whom you are not even allowed to administer physical punishment. Never in mankind’s 100,000 years history, anywhere in the world, has there been a generation like ours which, for ideological reasons alone, prohibits touching children to correct their behaviour. It will not and cannot work. Human children simply aren’t like that – never were..

    On top of ordinary classroom teaching, of course, teachers (probably particularly school principals) are faced with all sort of other time-consuming duties and responsibilities, planning each lesson, recording pupils’ progress, reporting to parents about each child, etc., etc.. Teachers’ only responsibility in previous times was to do their level best to teach their pupils each year’s curriculum. Some were very good at it – some not so good. Some were cruel to children – some were respected – some were poor teachers but loved by children – some the other way round. School inspectors and principals very soon figured out how their teachers were and knew how to get the best out of their staff.

    Education ministers must learn that every plan they dictate, every fancy goal they invent, every directive they issue is an imposition on teachers’ time. There is a limit to what a human being can tolerate before he/she breaks. I believe more pay in teachers’ pockets will not solve our problem. The very first thing we have to do is to reconsider the sacred cow of mainstreaming : Is it possible?? Is it even desirable?? And the second thing is to scale back on the myriad of paper-demands on teachers.


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