Why we Need to Get Serious about the Well-Being of School Leaders

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A guest post by @Vivgrant.

Throughout most of last year it seemed that the whole of the Education sector was on high alert. There were numerous reports about the impact of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis and the number of School Leaders set to the leave the profession; with media outlets suggesting that English Schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 Heads by 2022.


I had hoped that this heightened level of interest would have been a wake-up call to policy and decision makers and that they would have seen that more needs to be done to keep individuals in the profession. I had hoped they would have taken the issue more seriously and looked in-depth at the reasons behind increasing levels of attrition in the sector.

However, since then I’ve seen growing numbers of school leaders leave the profession or signed off work, due to burn-out or other stress-related issues. The system has yet to recognise just how fundamental it is to the health of our school leaders that their well-being and sense of vocational vitality is nurtured and maintained.

More recently, in March of this year, Damian Hinds announced that the DfE were going to implement measures to reduce teacher workload in an attempt to head off this crisis. This announcement, again, further illustrates the DfE’s level of short-sightedness over this matter.  If policy makers honestly think that measures to reduce workload are all that’s needed to stem the rising tide of leavers from the profession, then this simply shows just how far removed they are from the beating heart of those who are at its centre – teachers and school leaders. It shows how little they are aware of the emotional cost of leading in our schools and the wide range of challenges teachers and school leaders face on a daily basis.

Lack of support

 School leaders are still endemically under-supported with little help or training provided to enable them to deal with the intense demands of the role. Increased public scrutiny and the football manager hire and fire culture in some of our schools has only intensified and made a bad situation worse.

As a result, school leaders find themselves in the impossible position of trying to create environments that are great for learning, whilst constantly having to find ways to take care of their own precarious internal environment – their own fears and worries.

The pace and volume of change in our system over the past decade has only exacerbated the situation. Increased ambiguity, inconsistency, insecurity and staggeringly high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have only added to the pressures that many already feel. Likewise, the emphasis on data, results and policies such as academisation, free schools etc have only served to further complicate life as a School Leader.

A system that is immune to the emotional cost of leadership

 Yet the system seems immune to this fact and chooses to ignore the real reasons as to why so many school leaders are leaving the profession. Workload may be a contributing factor but it is not the sole one. School Leaders are leaving the profession because their needs as human beings are not being attended to.

This has to be understood and taken seriously, because if the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders are not met, not only do our school leaders themselves suffer, but school improvement efforts are also put at risk.

The diminished role and responsibilities of local authorities has also added to this situation. Local authorities no longer have the capacity to support in the way in which they once did.  As a result, there are now fewer and fewer opportunities for school leaders to come together, offer support for one another and experience a real sense of collegiality and shared purpose. Encouragingly though, there are places where school leaders are being proactive and amidst the very real challenges that they face, they are finding innovative ways to come together and rise above the enforced isolation, that has been a by-product of some of the government’s policies.

Creating restorative spaces

 It is clear that if the recruitment and retention crisis is going to be reversed then something needs to be done to tackle the long-term corrosive impact of many of the government’s policies. Change won’t happen overnight, but spaces must be created where teachers and school leaders can regain their sense of agency, power and purpose. It is our hope that our annual “Education for the Soul” Conferences can be a part of this restorative approach. At these events, school leaders can have honest conversations about the issues they’re facing, replenish their passion and sense of purpose and discover how best to have their own needs met amidst the myriad of challenges that they face.

Whilst I’ve seen how restorative these events these can be, it is clear that there is still much more that needs to be done across the system to stem the tide of leavers from the profession. We need a whole new conversation around well-being and supporting great leadership in schools. A conversation that is centred on how we learn to properly take care of the “Person in the role”.

The price of continually failing to do so is one we can no longer afford to pay. As when we fail to adequately recognise what it takes to create great school leaders today, we also fail our children and their hopes of a better tomorrow.

Viv Grant  Integrity Coaching

Viv has been in the education profession for over twenty five years. She is a former primary head teacher and seventeen years ago was one of the youngest heads in the country to turn around a failing primary school. Now as an Executive Coach and Director of Integrity Coaching, Viv works daily with others who have taken on the mantle of school leadership. As a result, Viv understands more than most what it takes for school leaders to overcome the often deep, hidden, inner struggles of school leadership and to succeed in fulfilling their vision for themselves and their schools.