More principals are subjected to physical violence - survey

A shocking new survey has revealed the rate of physical violence against school principals compared to the wider community is increasing.

The New Zealand Primary School Leaders' Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey 2018 was released on Wednesday, highlighting the rates of physical violence school leaders are subject to.

It was commissioned by the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) and undertaken by Associate Professor Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University. It collected data over the last three years.

The voluntary survey found that school leaders in 2018 were 11.79 times more likely to be subject to physical violence at work than the rest of the population.

That has increased since 2016 when it was seven times more likely.

There is also a high level of threats of violence. In 2016, school leaders were 3.54 times as likely to be threatened in the course of the work - in 2018 it was 5.64 times more likely.

It's also worse for female principals. In 2018, 48 percent of female school leaders reported violence, compared to 43 percent of male leaders.

The abuse mostly comes from students, with 27 percent of principals reporting experience physical violence form students compared to 3.7 percent from parents.

Most principals said the violence was only "a few times" each year, meaning less than monthly.

New Zealand Principals Federation President Whetu Cormick said the results were concerning.

"This upward trend in physical violence against principals in schools is disturbing and indicates an urgent need to address the underlying cause," he said.

"These include the increasing number of mentally unwell children in our schools."

Whetu Cormick.
Whetu Cormick. Photo credit: The AM Show.

Learning support

School leaders in "special schools", with students trying to cope with significant issues, have a great likelihood of being subject to violence.

The survey concluded that the level of violence was unacceptable in a learning environment and that there needed to be an increase in resourcing and capacity for teachers, school leaders and support staff. Work needed to be done to install specialist systems to manage and de-escalate the challenging behaviour of some students.

"The consequences of offensive behaviour in schools are likely to become costly for employers, through time lost to ill health and reduced functioning in the workplace," the survey said.

NZEI President Lynda Stewart said the results proved the need for the upcoming Wellbeing Budget to fund more support for children with learning and behavioural needs.

"We're seeing increasing numbers of young children with learning difficulties, poor communication skills and self control, and stressful or chaotic home lives," said Stewart.

"These children are not to blame, and they have a human right to the timely personal support and resources that will help them to heal, learn and grow as healthy members of society.

"Maintaining dignity and safety at work should be the norm for every workplace. The levels of offensive behaviour and violence in schools are unacceptable for any workplace, and particularly for a learning environment involving children."

Last year, the Government announced approximately 600 learning support staff will be employed in schools by 2020.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said learning support coordinators will work alongside teachers and parents to provide individualised support and "free up teachers so all children get more quality classroom time".

Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The AM Show.

Ardern said learning support in schools has been neglected for the last decade, and since one-in-five Kiwi children have a disability or other learning or behavioural need, support is necessary.

The voluntary nature of the survey means it is more likely that people with experiences are likely to come forward. In 2018, 978 female leaders took part and 450 male leaders.

Nearly 70 percent of the principals were from urban locations, while just under 12 percent were Māori. The average age of respondents was 53-years-old.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub "the Government recognises the need to support children with additional learning needs".

"We have committed an extra $500 million in this area - the biggest increase in learning support funding in a decade."

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said all teachers and students deserve to feel safe at school and the Government had made a large investment into supporting children with behavioural needs.

"Budget 2018 provided $283.8 million over four years to fund a range of supports and services for students with additional learning needs," she told Newshub.

"This included an extra $133.5 million for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS), which provides vital support for school students with the highest and most complex learning needs, $4.8 million for the Intensive Wraparound Service, and $21.5 million for the Early Intervention Service."

The Ministry of Education's behaviour service was also expanded in 2018 to reach an extra 1000 children up to the age of eight, with 57 additional specialist staff recruited.

Future announcements are coming on the Learning Support Action Plan, Martin said.