Many primary school leaders are feeling burnt out and stressed, a new survey has found.

The Principal's Health and Well-being Survey 2016, commissioned by primary sector union the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), spoke to 398 principals (20 per cent) across the country, and 14 deputy and assistant principals. It found 72 per cent work upwards of 51 hours per week, with 25 per cent working more than 61 hours during term time.

The survey found "high levels of stress, burnout, excessive workloads and a lack of professional support " for school leaders.

The union commissioned the study by Australian Catholic University after hearing anecdotal reports of increased workload.

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The quantity of work was the biggest cause of stress, followed by lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, and then 'government initiatives'.

Burnout of school leaders was significantly higher in rural and isolated areas due to less professional support.

Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti, who did the survey herself, said she was dismayed by the findings.

"I work about 60 hours a week, and I know lots of places do, but it is not sustainable every single week. It's hard work."

"I've been a principal for 20 years, and the stress has increased out of sight, and the hours have increased."

additional compliances added to workloads.

Brookfield School principal Robert Hyndman said the initiatives created their own stresses, but without property issues, he was "getting off lightly".

" We have some big changes with the communities of learning, but I would say the positive thing about that is we're doing it as a team, so there is a bit of neutral support."

NZEI president Lynda Stuart said they were seeing "complex demands" put on school leaders.

"The demands on school leaders are very, multifaceted, you're working from property one minute, there could be a health and safety issue, it could be you're doing something you really love doing, which is talking to kids, or you're dealing with legislative requirements."

She said she was not surprised government initiatives was the third highest cause of stress.

Ministry of Education head of early learning and student achievement Karl Le Quesne said they were looking at the survey findings and recommendations.

"Primary principals in New Zealand overall do a very good job and we welcome the survey's findings that primary principals and deputies are generally positive about their job and report high job satisfaction.

"We are already seeing stronger collaboration between schools where principals are working to address issues of this kind by building professional support networks.

"There has been a significant increase in support this year for principals."

He said they met regularly with NZEI and looked forward to discussing the findings with them, "including how to reduce or manage paperwork".