Increasing the funding for more staffing and resourcing at primary schools could go a long way to reducing work demands on school leaders and help improve their feelings of hauora according to one of the authors of Deakin University’s annual wellbeing report.
Dr Ben Arnold, who is in the Educator Health and Wellbeing research group at the Melbourne-based university, addressed a NZEI Te Riu Roa hauora seminar ahead of Tūmeke Tumuaki to discuss the findings from the 2021 survey.
Dr Arnold said the survey, undertaken since 2016, has shown consistently high feelings of stress for tumuaki in Aotearoa/New Zealand and demonstrated that “the job is not getting any easier”.
“We are seeing some real calls for help in terms of the need for some resources to help manage the school,” he said.
“My suggestion is that (policy makers) consult with school leaders about their workload and what they have to do … identify areas of responsibility that take up too much time and consider what additional resources can be brought in to reduce the burden on school leaders.”
Dr Arnold added that feedback in the survey had only reiterated the need for more staffing to help reduce the work demands on educators.
So, this principal explained that the role of the principal is complex and rewarding, fun and frustrating, empowering and limiting but most of the issues centred around a lack of resourcing.
“Higher class sizes contribute negatively to a number of problems but the lack of resourcing for behavioural and learning needs is the worst in the Western world. This is the main source of stress in my life and contributes significantly to my thinking about retiring from the profession.
“Another colleague said we need to revamp the education system nationally and support and enhance wellbeing. The expectations and amount of paperwork and workload in the majority of schools throughout the country is unrealistic and unsustainable if one is to maintain any healthy and balanced lifestyle.”
The Deakin team also studied policy responses in Australia and said that while few jurisdictions were addressing work demands, there was strong recognition they needed to promote school leader health and wellbeing through professional support – including professional counselling.
He added the New Zealand findings were similar to research Deakin conducted in Ireland, with school leaders overwhelmed by administrative work and not having enough time to do the teaching and curriculum development work they wanted to.
Dr Arnold said the research indicated one relatively easy fix to improving hauora in Aotearoa/New Zealand was for principals to openly engage with their Boards to help fix work demands and overload.
“I would just like to draw on feedback from one principal in the survey,” he said.
“‘With support from my Board an additional DP has been employed to ensure the workloads on myself and my current DPs has been reduced. This focus on our wellbeing has made a significant difference for the three leaders of the school in supporting an improved work life balance than what we have had in the past.
“’Thank you for your survey. I did share it in confidence with the chair of my board of trustees three years ago and your feedback helped me realise that I had significant home-work pressure that could not be sustained unless I asked for support.
“So quite a nice story there about someone asking for support, receiving that support and it making quite a difference to their life.”