Bunnythorpe Primary School principal Margie Sutherland resigned from her much-loved job last September due to the impact it was having on her health. As a teaching principal, she was the sole adult on site for most of the school week and was so stretched that she felt she wasn’t able to give her 25 students a quality education.

“People like me who love the job are being driven out of teaching and leadership to save our own health,” says Sutherland. “Principals and school leaders are working themselves into the ground trying to ensure every child gets a quality education, while managing every aspect of running a school in the midst of a severe teacher shortage.”

She is one of many school leaders who can relate to the findings of new research just released that indicate workload and stress issues for many school leaders.  The research was based on the responses of over 1400 school leaders who responded to a survey last year commissioned by teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa. It is the third year running for the annual survey.

Seventy-two percent of school leaders work between 41–60 hours per week on average and the remaining 27.3 percent work more than 61 hours per week, which is the highest proportion of respondents reporting that result since the survey began.

The biggest source of stress articulated by school leaders in the survey was the sheer quantity of work. Other sources were a lack of time to teach or lead, resourcing needs, and the teacher shortage.

While the shortage is reportedly easing slightly for many schools thanks to overseas recruitment initiatives, an NZEI phone survey of 500 principals in the first two weeks of Term 1 found that 10 per cent of schools were still short one or two teachers.

The findings of the research echo reports of principals leaving the job due to the increased workload and stress involved. The Herald last year reported on the departure of many principals, including Niels Rasmussen from Rotorua’s Sunset Primary School. Rasmussen said being a principal meant being under “relentless pressure”.

“If you check with most principals they are working long, 12- or 13-hour days,” he told the Herald.

The report recommends a number of solutions to improve systemic and professional support for school leaders, including increased leadership staffing for schools, mentoring and more time and opportunities to engage with professional support networks.

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