The new Expectations for Digital Communications policy stipulates that public school principals and other executive leaders will not send emails, messages or contact their staff outside regular school operating times.

Parents, meanwhile, can contact staff at anytime, but can expect a response within two school days ‘under normal circumstances’.   

Amber Flohm, deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation, has called the policy not only a ‘victory for teachers’, but a huge win for the state’s public schools at large.

“Addressing the fundamental causes of burnout through workload is critical,” she said.

“A properly rested and recharged teacher is better for our schools and better for our students."

The change would ultimately help plug the teacher shortage and attract and retain more teachers, Flohm added.

ACU chief investigator and former school principal Dr Paul Kidson told EducationHQ that too many parents had an unreasonable expectation that school staff ought to be available to respond to their queries at all hours of the day, with no thought for educators’ right to disconnect from work.

“[There’s] too many instances where a cranky email come through eight or nine or 10 o’clock at night, with an expectation that by eight o'clock in the morning, there is some response – [this is] just unacceptable,” Kidson said.

The expert said that other workplaces weren’t subjected to the same sense of urgency as schools were.

“If I was unhappy with something [a journalist] wrote, and I wanted to complain to [their] editor, I wouldn’t expect to send something at 10 o’clock at night and get an answer by 8 o’clock in the morning. I just wouldn’t.

“If I hadn’t heard back in three days, I would give it another follow up.”

Parents’ haste to convey their concerns and queries often led to communication laced with undertones of aggression too, Kidson indicated.

“Many people will have written things in the spur of the moment and sent it off before they really have proofread it and revised it.”

The policy, developed in consultation with the teachers’ union and the NSW P&C Federation, will be rolled out this term. Principals are encouraged to implement the policy in a way that works best for their context.

Strathfield South High School in Sydney’s inner west has wasted no time in bringing in the changes, and principal Brad Cook said he does not read or send off emails once he has left school for the day – and he expects his staff to follow suit.

“My philosophy is when you’re at work you’re at work and when you’re at home you’re at home,” Cook said.

“I set the expectation (that) if parents call, they'll get a call back within 24 hours.”

The school leader said parents were regularly kept updated via Google Classroom, newsletters and social media as well as phone calls.

The policy had given teachers more energy because there was no expectation they had to communicate overnight, he said.

“My message to teachers is: disconnect, spend time with your family and take a break.

“Teachers are incredibly hard-working and they need the time to prepare their coursework and meet the needs of their students.”

Those staff that choose to work outside of school hours ‘must respect their colleagues’ rest time’, the Department said, and ‘limit communications intrusions’ during these periods.

Kidson said a level of ‘reasonableness’ on the part of parents ought to be brought to all digital communications with schools.

Almost 800 NSW teachers lodged insurance claims for psychological injury and stress last year, with this figure jumping by 55 per cent over the past four years.

The data shows high school teachers made the majority of claims – 539 of the 787 lodged in 2023.