The last couple of years have seen some pretty hysterical headlines about the number of headteachers that are quitting, planning to quit, or are struggling with burnout. Teacher retention has always been something to keep an eye on (latest figure seems to be 1 in 6 after just a year) – but is headteacher retention about to be just as big?
As a Headteacher who recently quit herself I was intrigued to find out what, if anything, could arrest this seemingly imminent exodus of Heads…
1. Improve funding
It has such a huge impact on Headteacher retention because it impacts all areas of school life. And not just now, in a time when rising energy bills threaten to torpedo many schools’ budgets. But also in a time when numbers of special needs are rising, when support services around school are either being cut, or drowning in demand, and when local councils are being torn every which way.
One element of funding that has not improved despite the claims from government, is the perceived unfairness. Schools down the road seemingly doing so much better, academies who can pay their Heads more than the Prime Minister etc etc. The funding issue is one that I have never known resolved and it can be problematic because it seems so opaque and arbitrary. Recent headlines of government ‘help’ in the form of advisors who essentially make sure you cut staff haven’t exactly given people faith in the system, and the pressure to make ends meet just means that Headteachers are cracking.
2. Build trust
Trust Headteachers to make the right decisions for their school community. This means not always ring-fencing new funding. Not demanding that money is spent within a certain timeframe. Not ‘supplying’ schools with equipment that they can’t choose. Not expecting schools to use certain companies.
3. Fund community services properly
Schools are good, very good, at providing what is needed for our families and pupils. From out of hours care, supporting with illness, helping out with food and uniforms etc. when money is tight – schools really try to do it all. But even we have our limits – we have seen how social services are pulled so tight in many areas that they have been described as ‘at breaking point’ by one recent Unison study. Almost every Headteacher in the land can tell you: CAMHS, GP support, counselling services, behaviour team support – everything has been stretched so tight as to render it useless.
4. Make accountability fair
Of course we need accountability; national tests, a programme of national inspections is useful, and peer to peer working groups for Headteachers are working, in some areas of the country. The problem as ever is the judgements, the lack of awareness of the different context of schools (seemingly) and the application of the Ofsted framework. We have been crying out for reformation and changes, creating a high-challenge and high-trust accountability system. Post covid seemed a great time to do this but we are being treated as if Covid never happened (lets not discuss the current problems it is causing!). Much could be done in this area – even just starting with consistency.
5. Give Headteachers support
Finally – although a tough one to define – this is about recognition and support within our professional role. I’ve written before about just how tough it has been throughout the pandemic – mainly because of government changes, policy tweaks and constant mismanaged messages. But throughout all of this has been the idea that Headteachers are somehow responsible for whole school wellbeing – staff, pupils, volunteers and even governors, This is an impossible task – because of all of the areas listed above Headteachers rarely have all the tools to properly support their school community.
How can we practically support our headteachers?
Well, we’ve learnt clear, concise messaging from government – and not just about imminent national policy changes, or risk assessing for pandemics, but to give clarity. Taking party politics from education woul help. Improving the working life of Headteachers will not be easy, and in some respects we are our own worst enemies by, at best putting up with it, and at worst putting the pressures onto those we work with. But change has to happen, right?