Worrying increase in threats and violence against school leaders

8 May 2019

A significant increase in threats and actual violence towards school leaders over the past two years is alarming, and highlights the desperate need for Budget 2019 to fund more support for children with learning and behaviour needs, says NZEI Te Riu Roa.

NZEI's annual health and wellbeing survey of primary and intermediate school leaders began in 2016, with 1428 responding in the latest survey. The 2018 data shows that in just two years, threats of violence have increased by 57% and actual violence has jumped by 70%. 

In 2018, primary principals, deputy principals and associate principals were 11.79 times more likely to be subject to physical violence than the rest of the population. In 2016, they were 7 times more likely to experience violence than the general population.

Fifteen percent of leaders who responded to the survey were threatened by parents during 2018, compared to almost 20 percent threatened by students. However, students were far more likely to be violent (reported by 27 percent of leaders). Almost four percent of leaders who responded to the survey had been physically attacked by parents.

NZEI President Lynda Stuart said the increase in abusive behaviour in such a short time was alarming.

"The figures in 2016 were bad enough - clearly the situation in our schools is worsening and we need action and support now," she said.

"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.

Ms Stuart said the other issue of parents and other adults exhibiting unacceptable behaviour towards school staff also needed to be addressed, but would likely require different strategies and interventions.

"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.

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