Sabbaticals and career breaks among leadership recruitment proposals

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Staying put? The NAHT conference heard that more needs to be done to retain mid and late career teachers in schools (Image: Adobe Stock)

Headteachers are calling on the government to introduce sabbaticals and career breaks among a raft of measures to help ease the crisis in the recruitment and retention of school leaders.

Delegates attending the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which took place in Telford over the bank holiday weekend, debated the acute lack of leaders coming forward and the high numbers taking early retirement and leaving the profession.

Among the measures they want to see is the restoration of differentials between different pay grades, the reintroduction of national pay scales, and a form of key worker status for teachers – particularly in high cost-of-living areas.

They also voted overwhelmingly to press the government to develop a fully funded induction and mentoring programme for new headteachers.

Speaking in the debate, Patrick Foley, a London headteacher, told delegates that school leaders had experienced “year after year” of pay cuts, which had led to a recruitment and retention crisis and a “crisis of wellbeing among our members”.

He said that heads were being paid less while at the same time being expected to work harder in a punitive accountability system – and with less and less support.

“We need more and better school leaders who are ready and able to be that force for good in our society,” he said. “To do that we need to make the job more attractive to the best people. How many of our excellent teachers say to us that they have no ambition to be a school leader.”

He continued: “They need to treat us professionally, give us opportunities to grow and to develop as leaders and as people. Being a school leader is a near impossible job. Good schools are led by great school leaders.”

John Troake, national executive member for London, also spoke. He told the conference: “There are some very good school leaders sitting at deputy head level and just not wanting to take that leap for all sorts of reasons to become the school leaders of the future.”

Graham Frost, a headteacher from Cumbria, said that headteachers needed to stand up for their wellbeing: “We are at a point where we need to start to say, ‘actually we are being taken for granted’, when we weren’t awarded that pay rise we should have been given, when so little attention is given to our conditions and the work we do.

“It is an absolute travesty, but I do think it is a mark of quality and dedication that we often put ourselves last. It is about time something was done about this.”

Ahead of its conference, the NAHT had published a survey of its members showing that schools are struggling to recruit to leadership roles.

It finds that 66 per cent of respondents said their school struggled to fill headteacher vacancies, while 12 per cent failed to recruit at all.

For middle leadership roles – posts carrying a teaching and learning responsibility or SENCO role – 59 per cent struggled to recruit, while 20 per cent failed to recruit at all.

Previous NAHT research has found that more than a third of school leaders are thinking of leaving the profession early, citing the pressure of workload, stress and school funding. Only half of the headteachers surveyed were confident of staying in their roles until retirement.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “More is needed to retain mid and late career teachers. To create a positive proposition for a career in teaching the essential components include competitive pay, attractive and flexible working conditions, a healthy work/life balance, opportunities for career-long CPD, and lower risk ways of holding schools to account.”


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