Aah! Factor and how to get it

Message in the massage: a pound;500 spa treat mayhelp revitalise overworked heads, Michael Shaw reports.

Headteachers are to be offered an exclusive retreat at a luxury hotel, where they will receive massages and learn relaxation techniques to help them cope with school-related stress.

It will cost schools pound;500 to send their head on the three-day break during term time at the Grade II listed Hoar Cross Hall hotel and spa in Staffordshire.

The event has been organised by Alastair Falk, a man who was, until recently, Britain's highest-paid state school head. Mr Falk earned pound;120,000 a year as principal of the West London academy but was replaced last November after an Ofsted report criticised his leadership.

Alec Reed, the school's sponsor and multimillionaire founder of Reed Executive recruitment, moved Mr Falk to an administrative position in his education foundation.

It is in this role that the former head has organised the retreat, entitled "Headspace: time to think and unwind" which will include time for heads to relax and enjoy the saltwater swimming pools, aqua detox areas and saunas.

A free spa treatment, such as a full body massage or flotation therapy is included in the price. Afternoons will consist of "unwind time" and "individual listening sessions" with experienced counsellors, followed by dinner and an uplifting film in the evening.

During the morning the heads will work in groups, sharing the strains of their jobs and discussing the positive developments in their schools. Mr Falk said the need for the event had been proven by recent surveys suggesting the only professionals under greater pressure than headteachers are doctors.

In a letter to heads, he said: "Having been a head of three schools over the past 25 years, I know that the pressures have increased. I believe that you deserve this kind of time to reflect, relax and recharge batteries and I am sure your governors will agree."

Mr Falk said he thought governors would agree to pay for the event from school budgets as UK heads did not receive the sabbaticals or retreats available in other countries and it was a not-for-profit venture. It compares to the Pounds 540 bill for attending the three-day North of England education conference, excluding accommodation.

"It's not just a break in a spa for three days - it's an opportunity for them to get their creative juices flowing," he said.

The event would be for a maximum of 15 heads, and more will be held if it proves a success.

Mr Falk has first-hand experience of stressful school management, having been the subject of negative headlines in national newspapers such as "Highest paid head boosts exclusions".

Ofsted expressed serious concerns about the West London academy after a visit last June and said that a significant number of staff lacked confidence in Mr Falk's management.

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Schools may have more money now than they did 10 years ago, but they do not have spare cash lying around for massages."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that heads would benefit from the event, but that policy changes were needed to tackle the ingrained causes of stress in schools.

"It could be an oasis, but they will be going back to an arid desert," he said.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

Headspace details at afalk@reed.co.uk

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