'Heads coped on adrenaline but will fall by wayside'

Union says it has been flooded with enquiries about early retirement options once schools are past the worst of Covid

John Roberts

Covid and schools: NAHT president Ruth Davies has warned that headteachers who have coped on adrenaline through Covid could quit once their schools are through the worst of the pandemic

School leaders are going to start “falling by the wayside” after getting through the worst of the Covid crisis on adrenaline, a headteachers' leader has warned.

Ruth Davies, the president of the NAHT school leaders' union, has said the organisation has been flooded with questions from heads considering early retirement once the worst of the pandemic is over.

She said that the pressure on school leaders before the coronavirus crisis had already been unsustainable and the past year has made the situation worse.


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Ms Davies, who is coming to the end of her year as president of the union, said: “I look back over the last 12 months for colleagues who didn't take February half-term off in 2020 and who have worked a year without a break.

Covid and schools: Headteachers thinking of quitting

"So weekends, holidays gone, and they have just stepped up and have done what needed to be done. They have faced late-night, last-minute pieces of guidance coming through that are 100 pages long and … they’ve got on with the job, but it is simply unsustainable.

“We said, pre-pandemic, that the level of accountability being placed solely on the shoulders of school leaders was simply an unsustainable model going forward.

“My worry is that I don't know how they're keeping on doing what they're doing. And I tell you how. It's the adrenaline that keeps you going.

"During a period of crisis, what keeps you going is adrenaline."

She added: "My real worry is that when that immediate period of crisis not stops but drops off a little, that's where we tend to flop.”

Ms Davies warned that once school leaders feel like their school has come through the worst of the crisis, the profession will see headteachers leaving.

“We've seen a lot of inquiries around early retirement but, interestingly enough, not early retirement for now. They are still looking at the good of the school and have a commitment to seeing their schools and settings through this period of crisis, but we're actually flooded with inquiries about early retirement but from that point on – from next year onwards.

“I suspect that we are going to see a surge in people just falling by the wayside because they cannot sustain this level of activity, a lot of the pressure, this sheer level of activity, day in, day out, week after week, and not supported by a government that doesn't listen [and] is still not talking with us.”

Last year the NAHT released a survey in which half of school leaders said they were more likely to leave their role prematurely due to the pandemic.

It warned the government, in November last year, that it could face a “post-Covid exodus of school leaders” from the profession if it failed to provide more support.

Last month the Association of School and College Leaders revealed that, in a survey of its members, just over 54 per cent of respondents said they were considering leaving their role, with 13 per cent considering quitting within the next year while 23 per cent were considering quitting within one to three years.

Emma Hollis, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), told Tes that her organisation had heard anecdotally "that many school leaders are considering early retirement after taking their schools through the crisis period”.

She added: “This may not come to fruition, but, if it does, it could leave vacancies to be back-filled."

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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