2018 Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey

2018 Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey

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The results are in for the 2018 Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, highlighting some worrying trends in the mental and physical health of our nation’s school leaders.

Report author, Associate Professor Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education has run the survey nationally every year since 2011, in response to growing concerns about the occupational health, safety and wellbeing of Australian principals.

Since the project began, approximately 50% of Australia’s 10,000 principals have taken part. In 2018, 2,365 participants completed the survey – from government, Catholic and independent schools.

Alarmingly over 30% of those participants reported ‘red flags’, indicating they are at risk. Professor Riley believes this is a serious concern for the profession as a whole, as it indicates serious levels of distress for approximately one in every three principals across the country.


The survey also found that our school leaders experience far more offensive behavior at work each year than the general population – with the rate for threats of violence rising to 45% (from 38% in 2011) or close to one in two principals receiving a threat. The occurrence of actual physical violence is also on the increase – from 27% in 2011 to 37% in 2018, or one in three principals. That’s over nine times the rate of the general population.

And women are most at risk. Female leaders experiencing violence now sits at 40%, compared to 32% for men.


According to the report, the two greatest sources of stress that have remained consistently high over the length of the survey have been the sheer quantity of work, and the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning. But it also highlighted a worrying trend in the increase in stress caused by the mental health issues of both students and staff, and teacher shortages.

The report also found that:

  • Average working hours for principals remain too high for a healthy lifestyle to be maintained.
  • Over 99% of school leaders worked beyond the weekly hours recommended for mental health.
  • Principals experience higher levels of symptoms including burnout, stress, difficulty sleeping and depressive symptoms than the general public.

Professor Riley commented, “Principals, deputy/assistant principals and teachers are Australia’s nation builders. They need to be well resourced, not just logistically but also symbolically, emotionally and intellectually.”

The full report, including recommendations for government, employers, and individual educators, can be found at principalhealth.org/au/reports

If you or someone you know is suffering from workplace stress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp