A growing number of teachers in NSW are filing claims for psychological injury. “A society that’s under pressure”: Secondary Principals’ Council president Chris Presland.
The cost of claims for psychological injuries in the NSW Department of Education has risen to almost $26 million, as a growing number of staff report allegations of bullying, harassment and violence.
A report released on Thursday by the NSW Auditor-General revealed the cost of workers’ compensation claims relating to psychological injuries jumped by 71.5 per cent, from $15.1 million in 2014-15 to $25.9 million in the past financial year.
In the same period, the number of claims for psychological injuries increased by 32.5 per cent, to 619.
There were 308 employees citing bullying, harassment and violence as the cause of injury in 2015-16 – an increase of almost 34 per cent on the previous year.
Meanwhile, the cost of those claims rose 64.5 per cent to a total of $12.5 million.
Each claim for psychological injury cost an average of $41,291, up almost 48 per cent on the previous year.
The Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, said the department “should consider the effectiveness of workplace health and safety strategies for addressing the rise in psychological injuries”.
The prevalence of bullying and harassment against school principals was revealed by last year’s Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, which questioned more than 4000 school principals and assistant principals nationwide.
It found 41 per cent had experienced threats of violence and 36 per cent had experienced bullying.
The president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, Chris Presland, said school staff were under growing pressure as they grappled with increased workloads and changing societal expectations of what schools should provide.
“Part of the problem is around [people’s] attitude towards authority … [and] towards school and teachers,” he said. “It’s a society that’s under pressure, and schools are just one of the first places that feel that.”
Mr Presland said, nationally, there had been an increase in reported incidences of bullying and harassment, particularly of principals by parents, in the past five years.
“Schools are a very, very soft and easy target for anxious, stressed and unhappy parents,” he said.
Teachers in countries such as Finland and Singapore enjoyed high levels of respect and “no one would dare abuse a teacher”, he said. But in Australia there was a “feeling that we’ve got the right and capacity to say whatever we think, but unfortunately some people take that too far”.
An Education Department spokesman said staff wellbeing was a priority and the department was “committed to a workplace that provides dignity and respect”.
“The department has a dedicated Health and Safety Directorate that provides specialist injury management and work health and safety services and support, including the management of psychological injuries,” he said.
“[It is] currently developing further initiatives to increase staff wellbeing and support services in response to the rise in workers’ compensation claims.”
The Auditor-General’s report also highlighted the need for new schools and school upgrades to cater for the booming student population, which in NSW public schools has increased by more than 26,438 in the past five years.
Enrolments are growing fastest in the inner Sydney and North Sydney regions, with 10-year growth rates of 23.9 per cent and 22.6 per cent respectively. The 10-year growth rate for Sydney was 11.4 per cent.
Ms Crawford called for “significant investment” in school infrastructure to keep pace with the growth. The department has developed a School Asset Strategic Plan to ensure there are sufficient fit-for-purpose places for students up to 2031.
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