School principals deal with very high levels of stress, according to new research from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

But local principals say the stress of the job is worth it for the benefits.

The council's research found that 42 per cent of school principals reported high or very high stress levels, and only one-third thought their workload was manageable or sustainable.

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About two-thirds of principals worked 56 hours or more each week.

Chief researcher Cathy Wylie said experienced principals, often those in larger schools, were less likely to report high stress than those in smaller schools.

"They also seem to have more ability to focus on educational leadership, which may be related to the higher levels of internal support in larger schools," Ms Wylie said.

However, she noted that the research also found that 90 per cent of principals enjoy their work.

The principal of Cullinane College, Kevin Shore, said being a principal meant he couldn't "clock in and clock out" of his work.

"In a way, you're the guardian of the community - you're the public face of the school.

"Yes, there is a lot of stress, but it's also interesting. There's so much variety. Being a school principal is really a vocation rather than a job."

Mr Shore said the positive side of the role was the students.

"They energise me," he said.

Mr Shore said the teacher shortage affecting places like South Auckland had not yet hit Whanganui, but he believes it is only a matter of time until it does.

"I can see it coming, and that will definitely cause more stress for principals."

Mr Shore said he believed the workplace in general, not just schools, was becoming more stressful.

Rosalie Matthews has been sole charge principal of tiny, six-pupil Mangamahu School for the past four years.

She admits she carries "a heavy workload".

"It all falls on your shoulders - you do whatever needs to be done, on top of teaching and being a principal. Right now I'm doing some gardening at the school, and before that I was cleaning."

But Ms Matthews said despite that she loves her job.

"I absolutely love it. All my other jobs have been at big city schools, and this has been my favourite. I wouldn't still be here if I didn't enjoy it.

"The kids are the best part of any school but here I've been able to build amazing relationships with the children and their families," Ms Matthews said.

Linda Ireton, the principal of Keith Street School, said she was passionate about her job but it "ticks the boxes for high levels of stress".

She said dealing with difficult situations, including the escalation of student behaviour, was a contributing factor to principals' stress.

"It's a fantastic privilege to be a principal, but when you take the role on there's an expectation that you will have to make difficult decisions," Ms Ireton said.

Maryann Roberts is the chairwoman of the Whanganui Principals' Association, and the principal at Aranui School.

She said the association urged all principals to take part in the New Zealand Council for Educational Research's annual survey.

"The association is very supportive of the ongoing monitoring of the health and well-being of principals. The survey gives the opportunity for some self-reflection as well as providing valuable information and data to our sector."

Ms Roberts said the well-being of principals was a subject that was discussed often by principals, especially at association gatherings.

"Principals work well together to monitor each other and remind others to stay connected and supported. Principal groups regularly discuss and action ways to support each other.

"There are increasing demands on the principal's role and time, and those demands vary across many different areas and stressors as identified in the report," Ms Roberts said.