More primary school principals are dealing with high levels of stress, with some now showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Results from this year's Health and Wellbeing Survey - carried out by the NZ Educational Institute and Australian Catholic University - so far show up to 37 per cent (32 principals or senior school leaders) of participants answered questions that had led to a red flag.

Under the system, answering questions that led to red flags being raised means a teacher or principal is displaying a significant degree of distress.

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The red flags are generated in three ways - either a high combined score across the survey categories, a series of quality of life indicators that are concerning or a teacher has indicated they are thinking of self-harming.

Researcher associate professor Dr Phil Riley said those school leaders were in need of "urgent attention".

Dr Riley said similar survey results from primary school principals and leaders in Australia and Ireland indicated that there is something wrong with the role, not the individual.

"Senior leaders in schools need help and the education system needs a whole redesign to come up with creative solutions, such as job-sharing.''

In the New Zealand survey in 2016, the final red flag percentage of answers stood at 20 per cent.

Although a further 174 partially completed surveys are due to be finished, this year's initial survey results showed the problem was getting worse.

NZ Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said the trends showed "grave concerns'' to the federation and that the teacher shortage was adding to stress and the workload for principals.

"Teacher supply issues are directly impacting principals' ability to lead learning and manage the day-to-day operation of their schools.


"The challenges are everywhere. I've recently heard from four Invercargill principals who have been teaching full-time in the classroom for the past eight weeks.

"You can't lead the teaching and learning when you're in the classroom full-time.''

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart said there was a real concern for the wellbeing of principals and senior leaders in the sector and the institute felt that needed to be acted on immediately.

"We have made long lists of recommendations. But so far, nothing has changed much. In fact, it has become worse - as this shows.

"Some are not even filling out the survey. I have principals say to me they are waiting to be less busy or feeling better before they fill it out so that it looks less negative."