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Give headteachers sabbaticals 'before they burn out', schools are warned

Headteachers should be able to take up to a term off for 'reflection' and to boost 'wellbeing', academic says

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Headteachers should be able to take up to a term off for 'reflection' and to boost 'wellbeing', academic says

Headteachers should be given sabbaticals to allow them to stay at the “top of their game”, according to an education researcher.

Leaders should have the chance to take time off for “two weeks, six weeks or even a whole term” so that they can “thrive” in their the jobs running schools.

The move was suggested by Peter Earley, professor of educational leadership and management at the Institute of Education, University College London, at a Westminster Forum education conference this morning.

He made the recommendation as new research showed that teachers in England work longer hours than their counterparts in most other countries.

The proposal could help to combat a trend among headteachers of taking early retirement due to “burnout”. Many of them now believe leading a school is a “young person’s job”, according to Prof Earley.

“It’s really important that we endeavour to keep our headteachers at the top of their game,” the academic said. "We need to ensure they are able not only to survive but also to thrive."

One way of doing that would be to bring in sabbaticals for heads to give them a chance to reflect on their work.

'A period of refreshment'

“You might say, 'You are crazy in the current climate of teacher shortages and budget restrictions – how can we think about the notion of a sabattical period entitlement?’,” Prof Earley said.

“But I do think headteachers and school leaders should have some period of time, whether it is two weeks, six weeks or even one term – to get away from the job and have that period of refreshment and professional rejuvenation.”

The notion of giving teachers sabbaticals is not a new one. Early on in his tenure as Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested teachers should have the chance to take a period of time off in an attempt to avoid burnout and keep the profession “refreshed”.

“This always comes down to money at the end of the day. Can it be afforded?” Sir Michael told the Commons education select committee in 2011. “I think it has to be, and I think we have to look at creative ways of doing this, of giving people who are doing very tough jobs, and doing it successfully, time off to refresh themselves."

However, the move was heavily criticised at the time by the Campaign for Real Education, which balked at the idea of staff being given more time off on top of their 13 weeks a year.

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