Diary of a headteacher: We have got to be protected…

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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Are you preparing your "exit plan" from headship? Our headteacher diarist says more must be done to protect headteachers from the pressure and strain of school leadership

I recently attended a regional meeting for headteachers which is organised within our county each half-term.

I have been attending these meetings for five years now and they always provide a useful source of information through various national experts, speakers and consultants who attend.

They are also excellent opportunities to forge relationships with local headteachers who are invariably experiencing the same challenges I am facing.

As I looked around the room I saw an abundance of experience, a wealth of talent and an admirable approach from my colleagues who are always striving for a better education for the children in our schools.

However, one of sad realities of our education system is that some of these impressive individuals may be removed from their roles at the end of this year if their results do not stack up. The accountability system in our country is driving this reality and while there might be some positive movements in the right direction with the incoming Ofsted framework, that alone will not fix the problem.

One of these colleagues, who started his headship at the same time as me, explained how he was starting to construct his exit strategy. He has started to dabble in a few projects outside of school, in his own time, in order to secure a stable, enjoyable and less stressful form of employment for when the time is right to retire from headship.

It is a very sensible plan, but it struck me that it is so sad that we are in this situation. As we discussed his exit plan I explained to him that one of the things I worry about is how long I will be able to sustain everything that comes hand-in-hand with being a headteacher. We agreed that within the first five years of headship you are most certainly learning the ropes, increasing in confidence each year and becoming more and more competent, with an increasing degree of knowledge and understanding.

We suggested that the five to 10 year mark in headship are the peak years for a head, where your ideas of school leadership are fully formed and you deeply understand the context of your school and the education systems that surround it. But why should it stop there?

When we have served a decade in headship, are we over the hill, or in danger of being out of touch, or so ingrained in our ways that we cannot embrace new developments?

No. I believe, instead, that beyond the 10-year mark, many heads will just simply be burnt out. The levels of stress that are caused through the accountability systems in education or having to deal with the scandalous levels of funding or the horrendous levels of abuse some heads are exposed to from parents, mean that many people in headteacher positions will, after 10 years, have had enough and will look for new opportunities that allow them to achieve a more healthy, balanced life.

Heads have got to be protected; they have been brave enough to take on the incredible responsibility of running a school and therefore the system should work alongside us so that we, and our schools, can thrive. For too long now we have been beaten with the accountability stick and we need rapid change if we are to improve the retention and recruitment of talented leaders in these crucial positions. 

  • The author is a headteacher in his fifth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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