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School leadership pipeline ‘at risk of collapse’ according to new study which finds few aspire to school leadership

  • Nearly half (46 per cent) of assistant and deputy heads do not aspire to headship, with a further quarter (27 per cent) undecided
  • Less than half (47 per cent) of school leaders would recommend leadership as a career goal
  • Leaders say lack of trust and autonomy has become corrosive: almost three-quarters (72 per cent) cited the government’s constantly changing pandemic guidance as their biggest management challenge of the last year.

Today (Friday 26 March) school leaders’ union NAHT publishes new data showing that the supply of school leaders is at risk of collapse.

Even before the pandemic schools struggled to recruit and retain leaders. Now, NAHT’s new data finds that 70 per cent of school leaders are less or much less content in their role than a year ago, describing their recent experiences as ‘challenging, exhausting and stressful’.

These new pressures have exacerbated existing challenges like heavy workload, the high- stakes nature of the job and a decade of salaries falling in real terms.

Now, less than half (47 per cent) of school leaders would recommend leadership as a career goal. Nearly half (46 per cent) of assistant and deputy heads told us they do not aspire to headship (up from 40 per cent in 2016), while a further quarter (27 per cent) are undecided.

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of assistant and deputy heads said that concerns about work-life balance prevented them from seeking a head teacher position, and 40 per cent saw pay as a barrier to promotion. Over half (51 per cent) said their aspiration to lead had been negatively affected by recent differentiated pay awards that have reduced the premium for leadership responsibility.

Previously released NAHT data showed that nearly half (47 per cent) of leaders were less likely to stay in leadership for as long as planned, following the pandemic.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “The lack of support for school leaders throughout the pandemic now risks an exodus of leaders from the profession. The government’s longstanding complacency on leaders’ workload and well-being has been laid bare and compounded by its announcement of a pay freeze which will again cut salaries in real terms. The government must act urgently to make school leadership an attractive proposition for teaching professionals.”

NAHT’s findings are published in the ‘School Leadership Supply Crisis’ report which makes the following recommendations to government:

  • End centralised diktats from Whitehall which do not take account of school leaders’ experience and expertise
  • Reform the pay structure for teachers and leaders and reinstate the pay differential for leadership
  • Provide training, mentoring and support for new and existing leaders
  • Work with teaching and leadership unions to develop new, sustainable leadership and non-leadership career pathways
  • Confirm the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections until September 2021

Mr Whiteman continued: “Despite the increased pressure on them, school leaders have stuck to their task. Up until now the government has not really had to face the consequences of its lack of support for leaders during the pandemic. But unless we see some movement on the areas we’re highlighting today, the school leadership supply pipeline is going to run dry.

“To meet the challenge of recovery post-Covid we need great teachers and leaders in all schools for all children. The government has said that no child should be left behind. Investing in education and the teaching profession is the best way to keep that promise.”


On leadership pay, the union’s analysis of DfE workforce data shows that in 2019/20 the median pay for school leaders in all state funded secondary schools was £58,719, and £49,791 in all state funded nursery & primary schools.

According to government data, the differential between leadership pay and that of the most highly teaching roles has been eroded from 18.7% in 2010 to 14.2% in 2020. In 2010 the maximum of the teacher’s pay range (outside of London) was £31,552 and the minimum of the leadership pay range (outside of London) was £37,461 – an 18.7% differential

By 2020, this gap had closed to 14.2% with the maximum of the teacher’s pay range (outside of London) at £36,961 compared to the minimum of the leadership pay range (outside of London) at £42,195.

NAHT will be sharing its thoughts on leadership pay during an evidence session at the School Teachers Review Body on Thursday 25 March.

Press and Media contacts:

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

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

Email : press.office@naht.org.uk