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Two in three second-level principals burnt out due to stress, with 40pc needing medication, survey finds


Education Minister Norma Foley

Education Minister Norma Foley

Education Minister Norma Foley

Two in three second-level principals and deputy principals are experiencing burnout due to stress, according to a new survey.

At 64pc, the figure is well ahead of the 34pc found in the general healthy working

As many as two in five (39pc) were diagnosed with stress-­related medical conditions in 2022.

And two in five (40pc) reported requiring prescription medication in 2022 – more than double the figure of 18pc in a 2015 survey.

The reported sharp decline in well-being comes after three school years that were severely affected by the Covid pandemic, while principals are also struggling with teacher shortages.

School leaders also complain about the increasing administrative burden they have to carry. Almost one in three, 30pc, state administration is taking up most of their time

The findings emerged in a study for the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) and the Irish Primary Principals

The results cited relate to post-primary principals only.

The survey was conducted between February and April this year, the first part of a three-year longitudinal study led by Professor Philip Riley of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

NAPD director Paul Crone said: “What is most concerning is the high levels of school leaders seeking medical attention due to the stress their roles create for them.”

According to Mr Crone, principals cited the sheer quantity of work they undertook, the lack of time spent on teaching and learning, and teacher shortages as the main sources of stress in the workplace.

“School leaders have borne the brunt of an overbearing level of school administration for many years now,” he said.

“The level of stress and burnout in the profession will come as little surprise to those working in the education system.

“Stress levels have been particularly acute in light of the many challenges posed by the pandemic.”

The Melbourne research team compared their findings with figures for the healthy working population and found disproportionate levels of stress among principals and deputy principals.

Half of those surveyed reported difficulty sleeping, compared with 21pc in the healthy working population. For those reporting depressive symptoms, the figure was 33pc compared with 21pc.

The survey indicates school leaders are working on average 53 hours per week over the full year.

The NAPD is calling on the Department of Education and the Minister for Education “to take these findings on board, so that we can collectively find a way to alleviate this immense stress and workload”.

“The recruitment and retention of school leaders remains a key challenge in the post-primary school sector and this research is further evidence of why schools are struggling to attract and retain high-calibre school leaders,” Mr Crone said.

“We hope the minister and her department will continue to engage with us, so together we can find adequate policy responses and ensure school communities do not collapse due to a lack of candidates.

“Education in Ireland is among the best internationally, and school leaders play a crucial role in the integrity of that system.”

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