Mental health

Third of headteachers actively looking to leave education sector

Heads support service 'sadly unsurprised' by new report on teacher wellbeing

Heads support service 'sadly unsurprised' by new report on teacher wellbeing

25 Nov 2022, 12:00

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More than a third of senior leaders are actively looking to leave the education sector, a new study that shows heads are at high risk of depression has revealed.

The findings from the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index, shared exclusively with Schools Week, also shows mental health and wellbeing among heads, assistants and deputies has worsened in recent years.

It comes amid concerns about retention rates in such roles, with heads’ telephone wellbeing service Headrest saying it was “sadly unsurprised” by the report. 

In the poll of 707 senior leaders working across primaries, secondaries and further education, 67 per cent said they thought about leaving the sector in the 2021-22 academic year.

It marks a four percentage point increase from the previous year, when 63 per cent of senior leaders told charity Education Support – which conducts the index – they had considered leaving education in the past two years. 

Of those considering leaving this year, just over half had actively sought to quit. This equates to 37 per cent of all those polled.

Schools Week recently revealed headteacher turnover had risen by a third since before the pandemic. 

‘Too much’ for headteachers

SchoolDash data shows there were 2,127 headteacher changes this September, when appointments usually peak, up from 1,584 in September 2019 – a 34 per cent rise. 

An analysis of official figures by school leaders’ union NAHT earlier this year also found more than a third of new secondary heads left the profession within five years.

Ros McMullen, a secondary head and co-founder of Headrest, said: “Sadly this report is not a surprise to us: we are deeply concerned at the loss of many headteachers due to a variety of factors.”

She added that these included the “oppressive nature” of Ofsted inspections, budget pressures and “increasing difficulties” in recruiting other staff.

“This is all proving too much for so many headteachers,” said McMullen. 

Senior leaders in Education Support’s survey included headteachers, principals, deputy and assistant heads, as well as heads and deputy heads of departments. 

 The report shows the average wellbeing score of senior leaders is at 43.37 – the lowest in four years. During lockdowns in 2020, the figure stood at 45.20. 

Those with scores of between 41 and 45 on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale are considered at high risk of psychological distress and increased risk of depression. The average wellbeing score for England’s population is 52.40. 

‘Crushing workloads’

Asked if their workplace supported employees experiencing problems with mental health, 51 per cent of senior leaders said they did not feel well supported. This was a 10 per cent increase on 2020-21. 

They also showed signs of faring worse than other school staff. A total of 37 per cent reported signs of burnout – higher than teachers and support staff – and a five per cent rise on the previous year. 

Ros McMullen said the pressure is too much for headteachers in the education sectore
Ros McMullen

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said the report reflected its members’ concerns on “crushing workloads” and lower salaries in real-terms that had left them at “breaking point”. 

“Unless the government acts urgently to restore pay and make school leadership an attractive proposition for teaching professionals, the school leadership supply pipeline is going to run dry.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The overall picture of school leadership in England is positive – vacancy rates are low and the quality of leadership is high, but we do recognise school leaders have faced challenges.

“That is why we are taking a wide range of action to support the profession, including committing to the delivery of 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities by 2024, and funding a support scheme specifically for leaders.”

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One comment

  1. Basil Bruce

    The only surprising thing is that these figures are so low. I suspect many headteachers are too young to leave. Thankfully, I’m not in that boat because I couldn’t carry on for another year. Retirement in Easter.