Department ‘negligent’ in duty of care to principals

by Brett Henebery13 Jan 2015

In an environment meant to be filled with staff support, how can a principal be so isolated as to take their own life?

When respected Eltham Primary School principal Mark Thompson tragically took his life on December 7, his grieving family, friends and colleagues were left asking the same question.

One principal, Kings Park Primary School's Doug Conway, has called the department "negligent" in its duty of care towards its principals. 

"I think the department is negligent in its duty of care towards its principals," Conway said.

"There's an example of a principal who had death threats and had a very difficult time and was told by the regional advisor to toughen up.

"We're not here to hold your hand, you're the leader, you sort it out. It seems to be an unbalanced relationship."

Pressure is now weighing on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to provide answers – and the urgently-needed support that Thompson had clearly been lacking.

The Principal Health and Wellbeing report released in December 2014 found that principals around the country were under increased pressure to cope with aggressive parents and demanding workloads, but with a lack of emotional support.

The latest tragedy undoubtedly shows the serious consequences that the absence of emotional support can lead to.

The complexities inherent in tragedies like this deserve closer scrutiny, as well as open and honest discussion about the real state of support networks for school staff across the country.  

Across the Tasman, Northland has just become the first region in New Zealand to get a government appointed specialist adviser who will support struggling school principals.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education’s Katrina Casey gave an insight into a role that, while already existing in a similar form here in Australia, will inevitably grow in importance following Mark Thompson’s death.

"The aim is to also to provide advice on health and wellbeing to leaders who have to deal with challenging issues," explained Casey.

The issues laid out in the Principal Health and Wellbeing report undoubtedly fall under the category of “challenging issues”.
While unions, principals associations and charities like Beyond Blue stand ready to support those in need, tragedies nevertheless manage to slip through the cracks of these safety nets, which is why a radical new approach may be needed.


  • by JoeCitizen 14/01/2015 11:09:00 AM

    Yes, schools and their staff are overburdened with increased class-sizes and workloads as it is, but a little care and sympathy to those who are struggling can go a long way. What is lacking as much as funding is compassion from the top-tier. Principals are not just disposable worker bees, they are the facilitators of school leadership/management, trying to contribute as best they can to a bright future for our children.
    Take better care of them.

  • by Maydoh 14/01/2015 11:24:42 AM

    This is an inevitable consequence of "modern" education. The apparent importance of things such as NAPLAN scores is destroying the notion of educating the whole person. As well, a growing number of parents from all socio-economic groups expect schools will do the parenting ie be the "bad guy" while these parents pander to their children. Inevitably, there is a disconnect there that can become quite serious. hen we get threatened school staff. It is just far too easy for senior education administrations, who, if they have an education background it was most probably in an easier time, to demand school leaders take on a societal problem by themselves.

  • by FrustratedPrincipal 14/01/2015 12:42:16 PM

    My school and myself were physically and verbally threatened on several occasions. The appropriate actions were put in place by the school to emergency management. Alerts went out but NOT ONE person from the centre or region contacted me. Message was sent to the Wellbeing team.....they didn't get back to support! Not good enough.