Deep concern at falling leadership retention rates after FoI revelations

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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A Freedom of Information request has revealed the concerning extent to which middle and senior leaders are quitting our schools.

The revelations have increased pressure on the Department for Education (DfE) to update its leadership retention figures, which were last published in 2018.

The FoI request shows that more than one in four primary school leaders and more than one in three secondary school leaders, aged under-50, are quitting within five years of appointment.

And getting on for half of all middle leaders across both phases also quit within five years.

The data is collected by the DfE annually and the FoI request reveals that five-year retention rates have worsened across every category since figures were last officially published in 2018 (DfE, 2018).

Revealed: The NAHT’s Freedom of Information request reveals updated wastage rates for new school leaders aged under-50 who quit within five years of appointment (Source: NAHT)

The figures were published by the NAHT as it gave oral evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which is currently compiling its recommendations on teacher pay for the next two years for the DfE.

The NAHT’s own research late last year revealed that a majority of senior leaders in schools do not aspire to headship because of concerns including about personal wellbeing, Ofsted inspections, and the burden of responsibility that the role brings.

A survey of 2,047 school leaders found that 5% of those who were not currently a headteacher did not want to become one. This figure is up from 46% in 2020 and 40% in 2016.

Furthermore, the more experienced a teaching professional becomes, the less likely they are to want to take the final step to headship.

And the number who would recommend school leadership as a career has fallen from 47% to 30% in just one year (2020 to 2021).

When asked to summarise their role as leaders in 2021, the three most common responses were: exhausting, challenging, stressful. The respondents said that keeping pace with government pandemic guidance has been the biggest driver of workload (74%).

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, 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.

“We have 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.”


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