Half of principals work 25-hour week during school holidays

Study carried out for IPPN identifies ‘sheer quantity of work’ as biggest source of stress

Half of secondary school principals and a quarter of primary school principals work more than 25 hours a week during their holidays to stay on top of administration, new research shows.

The study, conducted by an Australian psychologist and academic for the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN), identified "sheer quantity of work" as the biggest source of stress for those in school leadership positions.

Over 800 principals and deputy principals were surveyed - three-quarters from primary level and a quarter from secondary - by Associate Professor Philip Riley, from Australian Catholic University.

He found those in leadership roles typically worked well above their core hours, with 43 per cent clocking in over 46 hours a week, and 15 per cent working over 56 hours a week.


Greatest supports

Family and friends were identified as the greatest supports for such principals and deputy principals amid a “perceived lack of institutional support”, including an absence of mentoring.

The author also warned of relatively high rates of bullying within schools, calling for an expert group to be established to investigate the problem.

Citing international benchmarks, he said adult-to-adult bullying in schools occurred at triple the rate of the general population, while violence or the threat of it was occurring at double the rate of the general population.

Within the survey sample, 12 per cent of respondents said they experienced threats of violence “a few times” during the last 12 months, 7 per cent physical violence and 20 per cent bullying.

The study showed half of principals and deputy principals had incomes between €60,000 and €80,000, with 2.5 per cent reporting incomes above €100,000.

Among those earning more than €80,000, secondary principals were overrepresented, as were men.

The workload to some degree followed this income pattern, with 21 per cent of primary principals saying they worked over 50 hours a week compared to 62 per cent of secondary principals. Among the latter, 4 per cent said they worked over 70 hours a week.

Some 50 per cent of those in secondary leadership posts said they worked over 25 hours a week during holiday periods, compared to 23 per cent in primary.

Targeted support

The report says targeted professional support was needed in areas such as time management, budgeting and dealing with stress.

“Teaching principals and deputy principals report lower levels of physical and mental health, coping, confidence, autonomy, personal wellbeing and a raft of other negative factors, along with the highest levels of work-related stress.

“As the role of principals and deputy principals has changed significantly in the last 15 years, becoming increasingly complex, the teaching principal and deputy principal may be roles that are becoming impossible to carry out effectively,” it states.

It calls for greater use of professional support networks, saying “this could be augmented by experienced principal mentors, perhaps retired principals, visiting schools to provide support in the form of professional conversations (‘agenda-less’ meetings)” to discuss problems.

Upwardly mobile

The study also includes a demographic analysis showing those in leadership posts “appear to come from stable backgrounds and have been upwardly mobile, and value education for themselves as well as others”.

Some 55 per cent of the sample said they conducted regular spiritual practice, while 24 per cent said they did not.

Close to 40 per cent volunteered their time for community support outside of school. They are generally positive about their job, with only 2.6 per cent becoming frequently depressed about it.

Some 17 per cent of the principals and deputy principals have a family member with a long-term health condition, with serious impact on the family.

The IPPN’s two-day annual conference opened in Dublin on Thursday evening with a plea for schools to spend more time on physical education (PE) to tackle childhood obesity.

Its chief executive Sean Cottrell said every child should get two hours of PE per week in primary schools. "The health and wellbeing of our children in our classrooms is at risk by virtue of our failure to act."

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column