A third of new secondary heads ‘leave profession within five years’

Union analysis suggests a growing exodus, and shows pay restraint and inflation have wiped 21 per cent off leaders' pay since 2010

Union analysis suggests a growing exodus, and shows pay restraint and inflation have wiped 21 per cent off leaders' pay since 2010

26 Apr 2022, 0:00

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More than a third of new secondary headteachers left the profession within five years, according to new analysis of official figures.

School leaders’ union NAHT urged the government to “stem the ever-worsening losses” after forcing it to publish data suggesting a significant exodus.

It blamed “high-stakes accountability, crushing workload, long hours and inadequate school funding” – and warned leaders’ real-terms pay is a fifth lower than a decade ago.

Growing exodus at all levels

The government released its analysis of census workforce data after a freedom of information request by the NAHT.

Thirty-seven per cent of secondary heads new to post in 2015 were not in similar posts in state schools five years later, the data shows.

It marks a deterioriation on the 35 per cent of new heads who left between 2011 and 2016, according to the analysis. Only heads under 50 were included, to limit retirement’s influence on the figures.

Retention rates also fell at primary level, from 22 per cent of heads leaving earlier in the first half of the decade to 25 per cent in the second half.

The same trend was evident among deputy heads, assistant heads and middle leaders at both primary and secondary level.

Secondary deputies saw the biggest decline in retention between the two periods, from 32 per cent to 37 per cent. Middle leaders had the highest “wastage” rates in both primaries and secondaries, with 46 per cent and 44 per cent respectively leaving within five years.

The analysis counts leaders as “retained” not only those in the same jobs, but also those moving to similar or more senior posts in other or multiple schools, including executive heads.

But leaders who now spend less than half their time in schools, relinquish senior posts or move onto temporary contracts are among those counted as leaving. Some multi-academy trust leaders, staff moving out of leadership or those providing maternity cover may therefore be missed out. Those moving into private or overseas schools are also counted as leaving.

Leaders’ pay ‘down 21 per cent’

Ian Hartwright, senior policy officer at the NAHT, said many assistant and deputy heads felt there was “just no point” progressing given increased workloads, stress and smaller pay premiums than in the past.

“The number one disincentive is wellbeing, but sometimes pay’s the tipping point.”

He said the government’s main focus appeared to be “flattening salaries” and boosting more junior recruitment through early-career framework reforms and higher starting salaries. New teachers face an 8.9 per cent minimum pay hike next year, when for most leaders it will rise 3 per cent.

It comes in spite of predictions by leading economists inflation will hit 9 per cent ths month.

NAHT pay analysis shared exclusively with Schools Week indicates the squeeze – on top of past pay freezes – will leave leaders 21.3 per cent worse off in real terms than 2010.

The minimum leadership pay band is set to rise to £42,195, but if it had risen in line with annual inflation it would stand at £52,716.

“It makes little sense to make higher echelons less attractive,” said Hartwright. “It’s a profession you need people in for a long time.”

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman claimed the DfE is “in denial about the systemic problems”, when young people need more experienced staff’s experience and stability.

DfE forced into transparency

The NAHT’s analysis, which it will present today to the School Teachers’ Review Body which advises the government on pay, appears to have forced the DfE into greater transparency. It not only handed the union data requested, but will also now publish its wider analysis of leadership pay trends later this week.

Stephen Morgan, Labour’s shadow schools minister, accused the Conservatives of creating a “crisis” and “draining talent from our schools and limiting children’s learning and development.”

The party has vowed to recruit more than 6,500 new teachers.

The government hiked its own trainee recruitment targets last week, after predicting a surge in existing staff departures among those who delayed their exit during the pandemic.

Morgan highlighted not only “unsustainable workloads” but also “Covid chaos”. Unions have repeatedly condemned the pressure placed on heads by constant changes to Covid guidance, though the new data only runs up to 2020.

Schools Week found surprisingly few signs of an exodus in jobs data a year ago.Yet jobs site TeachVac recently reported an 18 per cent rise in head vacancies this year.

A Department for Education spokesperson said vacancy rates were “low” however, and the “overall picture of school leadership in England is positive”.

But she added: “We do recognise school leaders have faced challenges.”

This explained the government’s £250 million investment in teacher training, early headship coaching offer, and greater pay flexibility for schools to “reward exceptional leaders”. A 3 per cent pay rise for more experienced staff is also the highest since 2006, according to the government..

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