The Headteacher Wellbeing Crisis in our Schools

With the recent publication of the Leeds Beckett University report into the impact of Leadership coaching in schools, we have undoubtedly reached a point where the system as a whole, needs to recognise that the personal and professional development of Headteachers go side by side.

As the report and others preceding it have cited, too many good Headteachers continue to leave the profession early or burnout, because the needs of the person in the role have been ignored.

Coaching, as this report reveals, is an essential life-support system for our School Leaders and must be recognised as such, if we are to enable our Heads to stay in the profession for the long haul.

Understanding what it means to be a Head today

To understand the impact of coaching as identified by the Heads in this report, we have to understand something more about what it means to be a Headteacher today; particularly amidst cuts to school budgets and public services. Increasingly, schools are now expected to pick up the slack, with no regard to the mental health and care of those involved.

As a result, schools have found themselves on the frontline, having to address the many levels of social inequality that these policies have further amplified.

In the most disadvantaged areas, these challenges are acutely felt; as too is OFSTED’s sword of Damocles when results are not in line with or above national averages.

A daily battleground

For many Heads, education has become a battle ground. Regularly, they find themselves not only fighting for the rights of the children in their school, but also for their own health and survival and this is where the problem lies.

Caught up in this detrimental way of being, Heads unconsciously develop mental processes that are attached to their own archaic emotional systems, that often obstruct high functioning thought and behaviour. These behaviours become normalised, until Heads either crash and burn or are forced to leave the profession on grounds of ill-health.

It doesn’t have to be like this and this is where this Leeds Beckett Research Report, if taken seriously by the profession, can have a huge positive impact on approaches to Headteacher wellbeing and levels of retention.

Key Recommendations

Amongst its key recommendations, the report recommends that the DfE seeks to:

 “Better understand the nature and challenges faced by Headteachers – beyond workload”.

For reasons cited above, this is crucial. Current support systems for Heads are lacking in depth and impact, precisely because the development/support needs of Heads are so poorly understood by policy makers.

As I have written elsewhere; what’s needed is emotional support and a space for Headteachers to reflect on how well they are doing the job and what they could do better. Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects. School leaders need something similar.

The support that is given to Heads needs to be support that allows them to reflect in depth. It needs to be support that enables them to understand human growth (a journey that we are all on and cannot escape) yet one, which ironically, considering the ‘true’ work of school, is one for which Headteacher support systems are ill-designed. And this is where coaching, as of the type detailed in this research report can make a difference.

Coaching that makes a difference

Another key recommendation from the report is for school Governors, MAT trustees and employees to:

“Be willing to consider the potential value of coaching in relation to headteacher’s wellbeing and capacity and retention in role, and how this may impact positively on the wider school community”

Where Heads have access to coaching that takes into account their inner landscape, they are more likely to feel;

– Valued
– Heard
– Listened to

In addition, they are more likely to grow more fully in their roles, as they are helped to recognise compromises and over adaptations in their behaviours that have led to feelings of misalignment and resignation.

When support is provided of this nature, as this report has proved, Heads develop a greater sense of agency. They understand how to align their ‘outer choices with their inner realities’.

When this happens, a certain inner peace is found. Heads no longer feel driven by the cacophony of external forces and pressures. As a result, they are able to derive a greater sense of depth and meaning from their work and find within themselves the necessary resolve and desire to stay in the profession for the long haul.

It is my opinion, that Headship is a role that is not for the many, but for the few. It takes an inordinate amount of courage and bravery to take on this role.

And so, for those who have chosen to do so, there is a debt that the education profession and those who are trusted with their care owes them; to do whatever is humanely possible to keep them well, healthy and whole, so that all of our children can benefit from their leadership.

It is my belief that ‘depth’ coaching as cited in this Leeds Beckett research report, can be a way of helping to achieve this.

“Sustaining a Vital Profession” – Read the Full Report

After 18 months of research and evaluation, in January 2020, Leeds Beckett University published their long-awaited research report into the impact of leadership coaching in schools.

The research is the first of its academic research of its kind to explore the relationship between coaching, wellbeing and leadership effectiveness amongst Senior School Leaders.

As part of this, the report shines light on the common emotional and psychological challenges of Headship, and the impact these can have on our Headteachers and School Leaders.

On top of this, the research report also plots a path forward and highlights the crucial role coaching can play in our schools, in particular:

– The powerful impact that leadership coaching has on both personal and in turn, school performance
– The role coaching can play in supporting well-being, professional practice and personal development
– How coaching can support Headteacher retention and the sustainability of the role

If you’d like to download the full report, please follow the link below…

Read the Report

“Headteachers give so much of themselves to support teachers and to make a positive impact on children and young people, and yet they experience some of the highest levels of stress in the system.  At a time when the challenges in the education system are becoming acute, this research demonstrates that specialist coaching can make a real difference in the professional and personal lives of Headteachers.”

Professor Rachel Lofthouse


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