Almost half of Australia's principals are at risk of developing "serious mental health concerns" driven, in part, by violence and abuse from parents and students.
It comes as the number of principals seeking to quit or retire early has tripled in one year, Australian Catholic University (ACU) research has found.
Targeted with offensive behaviour, laden with heavy workloads, a lack of time and a shortage of staff has principals considering resignation and early retirement, the research found.
ACU's annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2022 has revealed the highest rates of physical violence against principals since the research started in 2011.
School leaders are also experiencing high rates of threats, bullying, arguments, gossip and slander, it says.
Parents and caregivers were responsible for one third of threats of violence against 2500 principals that were surveyed, the research found.
ACU Investigator Dr Paul Kidson told ACM he's starting to see the job satisfaction and "fire in the belly" motivating principals tapering off.
"That's a compelling difference that we've not seen before," the former principal said.
"When we see this scale and rate of change, that leads us to conclude the issue is much more severe and significant then we previously thought," he said.
We're heading for disaster, certainly for the achievement of our national educational goals- Dr Paul Kidson
"In other workplaces we, rightly, say that's not an OK way to engage with other adults in their workplace," Dr Kidson said.
"We've got to have a conversation about how we are collectively responsible for solving this problem," he said.
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Dr Kidson said a lot of effort was going into easing staff shortages and workloads for teachers and principals, but the report shows goals were were not being met.
Federal education minister Jason Clare told ACM we've got a teacher shortage crisis and the national teacher workforce action plan is "not perfect, but it's a start".
"It includes important initiatives like investing $30 million on a workload reduction fund to pilot new ways to reduce the workload on teachers and maximise the time they have to teach," he said.
"It also includes 5,000 scholarships worth up to $40,000 to attract high quality candidates to the teaching profession," he said.
The action plan was full of "excellent things" to be pursuing but principals need to be part of that conversation too, ACU investigator Dr Kidson said.
Principals oversaw all facets of a school, and the "mountain of jobs" contributed to stress and burnout, he said.
"If you ask principals what we should stop doing, they give you a pretty extensive list fairly quickly," he said.
Queensland Catholic Primary Principals Association president Gavin Rick told ACM his teachers were impacted by heavy workloads.
Mr Rick said the answer lay in collaborating with parents in their child's education. Despite his own heavy workload, he made time to see his students and their parents every day.
"My favourite part of the day, the part that keeps me coming back, is being on the gate in the morning and seeing the kids," the primary school principal said.
"If I don't get out to see them again because I get caught up working, then at least I know I've done that," he said.
Mr Rick is taking extended leave to "recharge and get the strength to come back and do what the role requires". But he's struggling to find an acting principal while he's away.
"We don't have the pool of aspiring leaders that we used to," he said.
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