The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa’s annual health and wellbeing survey of primary and intermediate school leaders has found significant increases in threats and actual violence towards school leaders over the past two years.
The survey, which began in 2016, revealed that threats of violence towards primary principals, deputy principals and associate principals increased by 57 per cent and actual violence has jumped by 70 per cent.
Fifteen per cent of leaders who responded to the survey were threatened by parents during 2018, compared to almost 20 per cent threatened by students.
The NZEI said the concerning results highlighted the desperate need for Budget 2019 to increase resourcing for teachers to manage the challenging behaviour of students.
"The figures in 2016 were bad enough - clearly the situation in our schools is worsening and we need action and support now," NZEI president Lynda Stuart said in a statement.
"We're seeing increasing numbers of young children with learning difficulties, poor communication skills and self control, and stressful or chaotic home lives.
"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.
"In a developed country like New Zealand, how can we as a society stand by and let children fail for lack of resources and support?
"Helping vulnerable children must be our key priority.
"This research underlines the critical and urgent need to increase resourcing and capacity in teachers, school leaders and school support and specialist systems to manage and de-escalate the challenging behaviour of some students and to meet their needs," Stuart said.
The president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF), Whetu Cormick, said the latest statistics were worrying and the Government needed to immediately inject additional funds for teacher aides, specialist teachers and alternative education.
"This upward trend in physical violence against principals in schools is disturbing and indicates an urgent need to address the underlying causes.
"These include the increasing number of mentally unwell children in our schools," he said.
"We know that to fix years of neglect in this area will cost millions of dollars and we can’t just do it all overnight.
"What we must address immediately though, is the safety and well-being of our principals, our teachers and our children.”
Stuart said the issue of parents and other adults displaying unacceptable behaviour towards school staff also needed to be addressed.
"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," she said.
The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey 2018 was commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa and undertaken by associate professor Phillip Riley of the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University, with 1428 schools leaders responding to the survey.