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New data reveals sharp increase in number of school leaders leaving the profession within 5 years

Today (Tues 26 Apr), school leaders’ union NAHT will be giving oral evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). As part of that evidence, the union has obtained new information that shows increasing numbers of school leaders are leaving their roles after less than 5 years in post.

The DfE collects annual data that reports the number of head teachers, assistant and deputy heads, and middle leaders – aged under 50 and new to post – who leave their role within 5 years of appointment. The latest figures, obtained by NAHT through a Freedom of Information request, reveal that five-year retention rates have got worse in every category of school leadership since this data was last published in 2018.

More than 1 in 4 primary school leaders, and more than 1 in 3 secondary school leaders leave within five years of appointment. Approaching half of middle leaders in both the primary and secondary phase leave within five years.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “Leadership supply for our schools is teetering on the brink. School leaders’ pay has been cut by 15% in real terms since 2010, and this, in combination with high stakes accountability, crushing workload, long hours, and inadequate school funding, is driving leaders from the job they love.

“NAHT has pressed the DfE, literally for years, to act on this crisis, but the DfE remains in denial about the systemic problems afflicting the profession.

“It matters because children and young people need the stability and skill that these experienced professionals bring to their schools. Yet the DfE still has no leadership strategy in place to stem the ever-worsening losses.”

Recent member survey data from NAHT showed steeply rising levels of dissatisfaction among school leaders, with the number who would recommend school leadership as a career falling by over a third (36%), from 47% to 30% between 2020 and 2021. More than half of assistant and deputy heads (53%) said they did not aspire to headship (up from 40% in 2016) and 23% said they were undecided.

Mr Whiteman continued: “We urgently need the government to work with us to build a new, fair deal on pay, workload and accountability, to relieve the extraordinary pressures on the profession and make a life-long career in education attractive and sustainable.”


Notes to Editor:

  1. School leadership 2010 to 2016: characteristics and trends was published in 2018. Despite frequent requests, there has been no published update.
  1. In order to ascertain whether the Department continued to collect these data, NAHT submitted a request made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The response showed that DfE has continued to collect and analyse these data.
  1. The information released reveals that wastage rates for school leaders at all levels have continued to increase. These increases, although known, have not been reported or acted upon by the Department.
  1. The table below compares:
  • previously published data showing the percentage of school leaders aged under 50 and new to post in 2011 that left within five years of appointment


  • unpublished data, secured by NAHT as a result of our FOI request, showing the percentage of school leaders aged under 50 and new to post in 2015 that left within five years of appointment.
  1. The table shows that in all school leadership categories wastage rates have increased when comparing period 2011-2016, with the period 2015 -2020.



Year of appointment

Percentage of postholders new to post

that have left within 5 years of appointment

Head teachers

Deputy heads

Assistant heads

Middle leaders

Primary phase











Secondary phase











Wastage rates of new school leaders aged under 50 within five years of appointment

  1. NAHT’s report Fixing the leadership crisis: Time for change, sets out the findings of our most recent survey evidence of over 2,000 school leaders.
First published 26 April 2022