Most headteachers wouldn’t wish the job on others, finds poll

Four in 10 members of the NAHT leaders' union say they have accessed mental health support in the last year

Four in 10 members of the NAHT leaders' union say they have accessed mental health support in the last year

15 Dec 2023, 0:01

More from this author

Most headteachers would not recommend the job, while fewer assistant and deputy heads want the top post, shows a new survey from the leaders’ union NAHT.

The startling figures – which also show that 72 per cent of respondents say the job has had a negative impact on their wellbeing – reveal that 40 per cent of leaders have accessed mental health support in the past year.

It comes after Schools Week uncovered that headteacher turnover in September was 14 per cent higher than before the pandemic, suggesting departures are no longer associated with a Covid backlog but with the increased demands of the job.

The union surveyed 1,890 of its members in England between September and October. Nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) said they were unlikely to recommend school leadership, up from 47 per cent in 2021 and 32 per cent in 2020.

About a quarter (23 per cent) said they would recommend the role, the same as in 2021 and less than half of the 47 per cent in 2020.

Meanwhile, fewer assistant and deputy heads said they wanted to become a head. More than three in five (61 per cent) said they did not aspire to headship, a rise of eight percentage points since last year.

When asked the same question in 2016, 40 per cent said they did not aspire to headship.

Almost two in three (61 per cent) said their level of work satisfaction had declined over the past 12 months.

‘A really bleak picture’

The wellbeing of school leaders has been highlighted in recent years, with Schools Week revealing in October that ministers were extending a mental health support package for heads, hundreds of whom were waiting for help.

Nearly half – 49 per cent – of leaders said they “had a need” for professional mental health or wellbeing support in the past year.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Almost four in 10 said they had accessed such support. A further 7 per cent wanted help, but did not know how to secure it, while 5 per cent said they found access to be unavailable.

Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary, said: “These dire findings paint a really bleak picture of the unacceptable toll school leadership is taking on our members and their mental health and wellbeing.

“Reluctance to take on the role of headteacher is now an established and rising trend that will inevitably impact the wider school eco-system, and ultimately, children’s education.”

Asked how school leadership could become more attractive, most respondents said greater recognition of leaders as trusted professionals (86 per cent).

This was followed by pay that “properly” remunerated the range of senior responsibilities associated with the role and ensuring pay maintained its real terms value against inflation (both 72 per cent).

More from this theme


Heads and teachers working longer despite workload push

Key government workforce survey reveals longer working weeks, less job satisfaction and more anxiety

Samantha Booth

Number of children ‘missing education’ rises a quarter

117,000 children were not registered at a school and not receiving a suitable education elsewhere at some point last...

Freddie Whittaker

‘Elite’ Star and Eton sixth forms reveal ‘clearing house’ careers role

Partnership between academy trust and top private school also opens new 'think and do' tank

Schools Week Reporter

Reception baseline test: Partial move to digital delayed

Standards and Testing Agency had planned to move some elements of the test on-screen from 2024

Freddie Whittaker

Give parents termly window to request childcare, schools told

Ahead of the launch of the wraparound childcare programme, the government has published new guidance for schools

Jack Dyson

Labour’s school improvement teams will deliver misogyny training

Research shows rise in references to sexual harassment, abuse and safeguarding incidents in Ofsted reports

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I was a head teacher for 12 years until, in Sepember 2009, my school was inspected as “limiting judgements” were introduced, which meant that any discrepancy in safeguarding matters would result in immediate “Special Measures” for the school regardless of how good anythingelse was. Like Ruth Perry’s school we went into Special Measures because of an administrative error. I can relate fully to everything that has been said about her situation and how she felt because when you have given the best part of 40 years to serving the children and parents in your community it’s a real kick in the teeth.
    Fortunately, I was well supported by family and friends and came through it, but the hurt and betrayal of colleague further up the management ladder never leaves you. I was able to get the support from Occupational Health and the NAHT that also helped, but I received no help whatsoever from the Local Authorty I had alway been 100% loyal to.
    I could say much more, but will leave my comments there, except to say Ofsted has been bullying school leader, unchecked, since it was first introduced and it is so sad tgat it has taken tge tradgic death of Ruth Perry for action to be called for.

  2. James Little

    Why on earth would anyone consider being a classroom practitioner let alone taking on the greater demands of leadership?
    At certain times of the year you realise how utterly insane the demands on teachers are – Christmas and summer spring to mind. As I say, why would you do?

  3. Sandy Cameron

    If there are headteachers who are not up to the job, they should be supported to improve before Ofsted exposes them. What evidence is there that headteachers are properly supported through appraisal and professional development? Does any of it work well enough for heads to feel more confident about their school’s inspection? I suspect not.