40 percent of NZ primary school principals suffer physical violence at work - report

More than 40 percent of primary school principals have suffered physical violence at work, a new report shows.

The results of the Offensive Behaviour in Schools report raise serious questions about the safety culture of schools across New Zealand. Participants all work in senior management in primary schools - meaning principals, deputy principals and associate principals.

Thirty-eight percent of all primary school leaders reported that they experienced threats of violence in 2017, while 41 percent were subjected to actual physical violence. Both threats of violence and actual violence had increased slightly since 2016.

Principals were slightly more likely to receive violent threats than deputies, but both deputies and associates were more likely to experience physical violence.

Forty percent of female school leaders received threats of violence compared with 34 percent of men, and 43 percent of women reported suffering physical violence compared with 38 percent of men.

Verbal harassment is also a problem in primary schools, with 59 percent of participants reportedly the victims of gossip and slander. Thirty-eight percent reported being bullied, 13 percent were subjected to "unpleasant teasing", and three percent suffered sexual harassment.

Other adults were the perpetrators of bullying 96.3 percent of the time, and were mostly parents but also colleagues, managers and subordinates to the participants.

It's the third part of a report into health and safety into schools commissioned by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa from the Australian Catholic University. Previous reports focused on discrimination and burnout in the education profession, and future reports will collect data from teachers as well.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart says the results show school environments need to change.

"Along with their heavy workloads, school leaders are also having to cope with behaviours such as threats of violence, actual violence, bullying, conflicts, gossip and slander,'' she says.

"Schools need to be safe places for everyone: creative and compassionate spaces where children can meet their potential, and teachers and leaders can do their jobs free of all types of harassment."

She says the report is indicative of two parallel issues in primary schools: children with learning difficulties who end up abusing school leaders in their attempts to get the support they need, and adults who engage in "unacceptable" behaviour on school grounds.

NZEI has made several recommendations to combat the problem of abuse in primary schools, including increased resources, staffing and programmes to support students with "challenging behaviours".

The union is also calling for all school boards to uphold safe environments at schools, the creation of an independent free service to help resolve school conflicts, better training for school leaders to deal with violent situations and professional counselling for leaders who suffer physical violence.