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Heads crash and burn

Stressed school leaders confess to making serious mistakes at work, falling asleep at the wheel and being too tired for sex

Headteachers have admitted that the stress of work has caused them to have car accidents and exclude children unnecessarily.

The report from Keele university shows that more than 10 per cent of heads admit to such errors, suggesting that as many as 2,500 schools in England and Wales could be affected.

The survey of 688 primary and secondary heads also reveals that a third said work made them too tired for sex, a quarter said work had affected their relationship and almost 10 per cent said it played a part in the breakdown of their relationship.

The anonymous survey details the mistakes. One admitted to the exclusion of a child "when really the incident should have been better managed by me".

Others said they had placed pupils in the wrong year groups, failed to gain money for their schools by missing deadlines for bids, and lost their temper with staff, parents and pupils through tiredness.

Eight heads said that they had either been involved in car crashes or only narrowly escaped them because of exhaustion or stress. One head admitted to falling asleep at the wheel and others to driving backwards into fences, and scraping the school gates.

Brendan Hassett, head of Dolphinstone primary in Lancaster, said he nearly crashed while driving home from work because of stress. "I pulled over and there were tears flooding down my face," he said. "I was crying uncontrollably. I could have crashed into the back of something." He said an overload of government initiatives, including introducing compulsory non-contact time and new management payments for his staff, had left him feeling more stressed than he had been throughout his 20-year career.

Despite his experience, Mr Hassett thinks being a head is the best job in the world. "I love what I do. That is why I don't want to be forced to stop," he said.

One head admitted to hiring what proved to be an unsuitable member of staff in a hurry before an Ofsted inspection. Another had not informed parents when their child had been assaulted by another pupil. A third admitted to leaving a child protection referral to the following day. "This might have had serious consequences but in fact did not."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which commissioned the report, said: "We have had 15 of our members suspended in the East Midlands, which is about five times as many as normal and that shows the pressures heads are under." He said that mistakes he had made as a head in Lincolnshire in the 1980s included snapping at a parent who wanted information about a school trip, only to discover that she was on the governing body and recruiting panel of a school where he later applied to work.

NAHT conference 15

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