Between 2011 and 2018, physical violence against principals, deputies and assistants has grown from seven times the rate of the population to 9.5 times.
The sources of threats of violence are parents and students in equal measure; last year, 30.7 per cent came from parents, and 32.4 per cent from students. Some reported parents stalking them, or roaming enraged through the playground.
Violence from students ranged from spitting to headbutting, while threats included having guns and knives pointed at them.
«The increases in NSW have been phenomenal,» said chief researcher, Associate Professor Philip Riley, of the Australian Catholic University. «Threats of violence increased about eight per cent last year, from the year before.»
Dr Riley said he was deeply concerned. «We’re in trouble as a country,» he said. «It’s literally out of control.
«Principals aren’t the only people reporting this. This is also true of other frontline services, such as paramedics and police.
«By the same token, you are leaving people exposed to serious danger who are unprepared. If you are a police officer, you get some training in handling difficult situations, but teachers get nothing.»
Last year, the NSW Department of Education issued a parent code of conduct. There has been a similar push in Catholic schools. But Dr Riley said that was not enough. «There needs to be way more being done than is being done so far.»
Dr Riley said principals were also concerned about the lack of time they had to focus on teaching and learning, as well as their levels of «moral stress», defined as uncertainty about their ability to fulfil moral obligations.
Despite all this, they were more satisfied with their job than the general population.
«The only thing I can put it down to is that they are a very dedicated bunch of workers,» Dr Riley said. «They know they are doing good work. They have the future of the country in their hands, and they feel privileged.
«The job can be killing them but they feel very satisfied.»
Chris Presland, of the Secondary Principals Council, said he was not surprised by the findings on violence and threats.
«There’s everything from threats of violence and abuse, online threats of the most vile kind, right through to actual physical violence,» he said.
«In my time as a principal I’ve been king hit, smashed against the wall two or three times — that would not be unusual for anyone, really.
«We need a serious bipartisan approach to calling out this behaviour. We need to improve the support mechanisms to principals in this situation.»
Sue Peddlesden, principal of Gleneagles Secondary College in Melbourne’s south-east, clocks up a 60-hour week as standard.
«It is hard work and it can be stressful but it’s a privilege,» she said.
«We have finite resources in terms of money and principals often put that money into classrooms for kids and we aren’t sufficiently self-protective — I think that’s a principal trait.
«We end up picking up a lot of the administration.»
Having been in principal-class positions for the past 21 of her 37 years as an educator, Ms Peddlesden said she had felt vulnerable to physical violence twice and that in her experience threats were rare.
«Kids sometimes get overwrought and say things they don’t mean; kids, or even parents in a fit of temper, can say unfortunate things.»
She said a move that would help alleviate stress was schools having greater access to mental health workers for students.
«Adolescence can be a time of emerging mental health issues,» she said.
«The government has announced schools will be getting access to these workers which was welcome. They’re not in my school yet but it will be a benefit.»
Her advice for aspiring principals is to not try to reach the role too early in their careers.
«There is no doubt that as a principal you have to have resilience.
«I would encourage getting a breadth of experience across all facets of the school before seeking to go to the next level because the next level will really uncover any gaps in your knowledge.
«It’s not a job you do without a moral purpose.»
with Anna Prytz
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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald