The NAHT school leaders’ union wants the government to act on the worsening wellbeing of headteachers, with its president warning that they “cannot keep pouring from an empty cup”.
The National Association of Head Teachers will debate a motion at its conference starting today to investigate how to better support school leaders’ workloads.
The motion pledges to press the government on how flexible working for heads, including part-time, co-headship or phased retirement, could help.
Research by the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford found two in five headteachers plan to leave the profession early within the next five years. The most experienced leaders are twice as likely to want to go.
Covid was the main influence for a quarter of those wanting an early departure, while more than half cited it as a contributing factor.
Tim Bowen, the NAHT’s president, will tell the conference tomorrow that leaders put themselves “directly in harm’s way” last year to keep schools open when “little was known about the virus”.
Bowen, on secondment from his headship at Maple Primary in Hertfordshire, will say: “I know how hard it has been – I know what you have given, the pressure you have been under, the courage you have shown and the sacrifices you have made. I pay tribute to you all.”
‘You cannot keep pouring from an empty cup’
Outlining why he chose the wellbeing charity Education Support as his presidential charity for the year, Bowen will add: “Goodness knows, we have all felt like it has been too much at one point or another. Getting professional help when that happens is absolutely vital.
“You cannot keep pouring from an empty cup, as the saying goes. You must make your personal wellbeing a priority.”
The NAHT motion outlines that while other professionals have used Covid to re-evaluate their work-life balance – moving to more flexible working patterns – school leaders have been left behind.
Should the motion be passed as expected, the union will work with others on the benefits of flexible working and how to reduce workload for heads.
It will also commit to considering the potential benefits for members of independent models of coaching and mentoring.
Sinéad Mc Brearty, the chief executive of Education Support, who is also speaking at the conference, said it was an “unavoidable fact that over time, prolonged stress, anxiety and fatigue can lead to burnout.
“We need to prioritise properly the mental health and wellbeing of our school leadership teams as we recover from the pandemic so they can ensure that all staff are equipped and supported to do their best work.”
The Department for Education is to launch a school leader wellbeing support scheme this term, backed by £760,000 funding.
But tender documents show the scheme must only reach 2,000 school leaders – meaning only one in ten might get support. There are 20,000 state schools in England.
Under the scheme, leaders will receive at least six sessions of online peer support or one-to-one online or phone counselling.
A wellbeing survey last year found that 20 per cent of teachers had no form of mental health support available at their school or college.
Other notable NAHT motions
Lobby government to cancel SATs next year, and review primary assessment
Create guidance to ensure leaders in schools not yet ‘good’ get support
Press government to reverse the £90 million pupil premium cut
Call for a national review of children missing in education
Develop a “codified” pay system for school business leaders
Call to end teacher pay freeze, including a review of leaders’ pay structure
Ask government to ensure policy changes shared with schools before the media
Government guidance that allows specific changes to be tracked and easily identifiable