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Stress and well-being among New Zealand principals: Report to the New Zealand Principals' Federation

This report for the New Zealand Principals’ Federation focuses on stress among New Zealand principals in state and state-integrated schools, and the factors associated with it. It uses their mid–2005 Principals’ Hauora-Wellbeing electronic survey. The response rate for the survey was 61 percent of all New Zealand principals in these schools (n=1,523). Responses were representative of the national profile of schools in terms of socioeconomic decile and location. Primary principals were over-represented, and secondary principals, those of U7 and above schools, and kura kaupapa Mäori principals, under-represented.

Forty percent of the respondents described their current stress level as high or extremely high. Stress levels were higher for principals who were women or Mäori Maori or not NZ European. There were no marked differences related to school characteristics. Stress levels were associated with many aspects of wellbeing and health, and with aspects of the role and workload of principals.

While principals appeared healthier on the whole than the general population (using age-weighted comparisons), with fewer risk behaviours, they exercised less. Less than a third followed the guidelines for good health in terms of physical activity of having at least three 30-minute periods of fitness activity a week. Just over half thought they would have difficulty running the length of a football field.

Lack of time may be the main reason why principals do not get enough exercise. Ninety percent worked 50 hours or more a week, and 42 percent worked 60 hours or more. Just under half experienced constant tiredness, and half reported problems with sleep.

Many principals experience some frustration, impatience or anger. However, 70 percent were optimistic about their life and job as a school principal. Most thought that their staff and board of trustees valued the work they did as a principal.

Notwithstanding long hours and stress from their role, the majority of principals do get great satisfaction from their work. Thirty-six percent strongly agreed with the statement Your job gives you great satisfaction, and 49 percent agreed with it. Ten percent felt neutral about this statement, and only 4 percent disagreed with it.

The main stressors for principals stemmed from balancing the teaching and managing aspects of their role, paperwork, and workload. Most principals thought they spent more time on management rather than leadership. These role-related pressures were felt more keenly by principals in small or rural schools.

The lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, and Ministry of Education initiatives, paperwork and other system demands were identified as having a high impact for over half the principals.

The next set of stressors for many principals included resourcing needs and  ERO reviews, which had high impact for around 40 percent of the principals.

Principals of small schools, and rural schools, and also those whose rolls were fluctuating or declining, and to a lesser extent those of low socioeconomic decile schools, were more likely to find aspects of their role stressful.

However, most of the variance in principals’ well-being can be accounted for by workload and role balance, not school or individual characteristics. Other main contributing factors to well-being were support from education sector organisations and government agencies, stressors from parents, stressors from staff, the principal’s fitness level, and their participation in principal networks.

Year published: 
Publication type: 
Research report
NZCER, for the New Zealand Principals' Federation
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