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Schools are increasingly dangerous places for principals, a new survey shows (Bigstock)

School leaders have reported high levels of resilience despite facing the worst recorded levels of physical violence, threats of violence, and bullying in the 13-year history of ACU’s annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey.

Educational psychologist and co-lead investigator Herb Marsh, who has been at the helm of the report since 2016, said school principals were remarkably resilient, but increasing job demands and burnout are putting them at risk.

It is deeply concerning that offensive behaviour towards school leaders and teachers persists and appears to be on the rise,” Professor Marsh said.

Despite the spike in violence and the toll on their mental health and wellbeing, the survey found school leaders showed surprisingly strong levels of resilience, and their work commitment remained high.

Compiled by ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, the latest survey of 2300 principals reveals instances of physical violence has increased 76.5 per cent since 2011.

It also showed school leaders suffered higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, with early career school leaders most at risk.

Offensive behaviours towards principals escalated in 2023, with 48 per cent subjected to physical violence and more than half (53.9 per cent) experiencing threats of violence.

Of those reporting physical violence, a staggering 96.3 per cent was at the hands of students.

Heavy workloads and a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning remained the top two sources of stress for principals surveyed in 2023. Mental health of students, followed by mental health of staff and student-related issues round out the top five sources of stress.

ACU investigator and former principal Dr Paul Kidson called on education ministers to urgently take collective action to address the significant threats facing principals.


Violence escalates and mental health suffers but principals remain resilient, ACU report (ACU)


School principals faced with machetes, spears and knives as report reveals soaring classroom violence (ABC News)

School principals under attack from violent students and angry parents (The Australian)

NSW principals exposed to rising threats and violence from parents, students (SMH)

Victorian school principals pushed to the brink by violence from students, angry parents (Herald-Sun)