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England’s schools suffer from a ‘leadership drought’ which risks harming pupil outcomes, says NAHT

Today many schools break up for the summer after what has been the most challenging school year in living memory. School leaders’ union NAHT publishes its latest research into the pay and wellbeing of staff. Staff wellbeing has been an important factor during lockdown, as schools have remained open. The latest DfE figures show that around nine out of ten schools were open for pupils. 

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said: “Schools need leaders, but we have too few of them at present. School leadership has become an unattractive career proposition, which is a huge problem in a system that already has the least experienced workforce in the OECD. We are concerned that the challenges of lockdown might exacerbate the ‘leadership drought’ which already exists. 

“Decisive action is urgently needed if we are to have sufficient school leaders for the future. A step-change is needed that establishes teaching as a sustainable professional career choice, positioning it alongside other comparable occupations such as law, medicine and accountancy.   

“As things stand, too few high-quality graduates and career-changers are choosing to enter the profession, too many experienced professionals are quitting before their time and too few wish to step up to leadership. This crisis in leadership supply is under-recognised and under-reported, but the new reality is that many schools now struggle to assemble a quality field from which to recruit new heads, deputies and assistants. A lack of experienced leaders risks harming standards and is bad for pupils. Urgent action is needed to restore the career continuum in the teaching profession, so that we retain sufficient experienced professionals to become the leaders of tomorrow. 

 “We desperately need to create a compelling proposition that will support individuals in building a decades-long career in education.” 

NAHT’s new report A Career in Education found that: 

·       73% of the 1,238 respondents were aware of at least one member of staff leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement – a substantial increase on the two-thirds of respondents who told us this in 2018 (67%) and 2017 (66%). 

·       The key drivers cited by respondents remain consistent with previous findings: three-quarters (75%) said workload was the main reason for leaving 

·       65% of leaders said more competitive pay across the profession would make teaching a more attractive career 

Mr Whiteman continued: “There are urgent issues to address here. Clearly it is false to say that pay is not a factor for those considering taking on a leadership role. It’s a demanding job. Most school leaders earn relatively modest salaries when you compare them to other senior roles, with comparable levels of responsibility and accountability. Graduates emerging from university with £50,000 of debt or more understandably don’t see teaching as a career pathway to paying that back easily.” 

Our six recommendations: 

1.       Increase the quality of applicants into teaching 

2.       Tackle the workload crisis 

3.       Improve the attractiveness of teaching and provide incentives to move into leadership 

4.       Provide leadership support and mentoring training 

5.       Remove disincentives that drive leaders out of the profession 

6.       Create new opportunities for late-career teachers and leaders 

Mr Whiteman concluded: “It is leadership where we’re in the most difficulty. In our report 59% of new leaders said they had received no induction training in their first role as a senior leader. NAHT would like to see the government providing an ‘Early Leadership Framework’ alongside the ‘Early Career Framework’ already being trialled. Involving experienced leaders as mentors in this framework, would serve the dual purpose of providing support for new leaders whilst creating a new pathway for experienced leaders. 

 “The government has made some steps towards the problems we’ve identified. Now we need them to take some giant leaps. We have to solve the retention crisis if we are going to truly deliver for all pupils. Today’s report doesn’t just identify the problem, it also makes six clear and constructive recommendations to resolve it, which we strongly urge the government to consider.” 

Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

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