“We are in trouble as a nation,” according to the author of an Australian Catholic University survey that reveals one in three Australian school principals have been attacked and half have experienced violent threats at work, the Catholic Leader reports.
“This is a reflection of our society, it is much bigger than schools,” the survey’s chief investigator associate professor Philip Riley, from ACU’s Institute of Positive Psychology and Education, said.
In a worrying trend, almost half of school principals (45 per cent) were threatened with violence last year, compared with 38 per cent when Dr Riley conducted his first Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey in 2011.
Catholic schools and independent schools prove to be a “little bit” safer.
“Part of the reason is that these schools can get rid of families and eventually move them to government sector,” Dr Riley said.
“So by the time you get to end of secondary school there’s an over-representation in the government sector, because they can’t go anywhere else once they’ve been excluded from Catholic or independent schools.”
Dr Riley, a former school principal, spent 16 years in schools before moving to the tertiary sector, and attributes an escalation of violence to the high-stakes pressure and anxiety experienced by students and their working parents.
“Australia has gone from pretty low average working hours in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to almost the highest in a generation. So everybody’s busy,” he said.
“The high-stakes nature of NAPLAN means people are trying to tell principals how to run their schools. And I think that is what’s playing out.
“To over-simplify, it’s parents in primary schools and students in secondary schools,” Dr Riley said, describing who are the chief perpetrators of violence.
Dr Riley said the level and intensity of violence appeared to be increasing as well.
Professor Riley: “Part of the reason is that these schools can get rid of families and eventually move them to government sector.”