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Money at root of most stress

The majority of primary heads feel under more pressure than they did a decade ago. Helen Ward reports.

Nearly three-quarters of primary headteachers believe their job is more stressful than it was three years ago - and concerns about funding are now the highest in a decade.

More than four out of five heads told the National Foundation for Educational Research that budgets were their main concern. Ten years ago funding problems were cited by only 56 per cent.

Worries over money have regularly topped the list of headteacher concerns in the decade that the NFER has been running its survey of trends in education.

The study charts the changes that have taken place since 1994, identifying key concerns and includes a look at the curriculum and the role of the head.

This year for the first time heads were also asked to indicate the percentage of time spent on various subjects, not surprisingly English and maths came out top.

The survey highlights how stressful management of school finances is becoming. Almost 20 per cent more heads than in previous years said handling the budgets was one of the greatest challenges they face.

On top of money worries, the 611 heads who responded to the survey blamed initiative overload, paperwork, pressure to improve, volume of work and parental pressure for increased stress.

Concerns about school buildings were at an all-time high, while worries about staff have risen steadily over the past decade, dipping only slightly in 1997.

Inspection is now less of a headache, cited by 27 per cent of heads as a key worry, compared to 43 per cent a decade ago. Although parental pressure has remained fairly constant at around 10 per cent.

Fewer heads than in previous years - around a third - indicated that special needs was a problem.

Fears about national curriculum asssessment have dropped from almost 30 per cent in 1994 to the latest 21 per cent, and about curriculum change from more than 40 per cent to just 9 per cent.

For the third year running almost all heads reported that staff workload was an issue.

Four out of five said they would employ more teaching assistants if they had more money, compared to three out of five who would take on teachers. A further two out of five said they needed more administrative staff, the highest figure recorded.

Most heads recognised the importance of giving teachers continuing professional development opportunities, but 90 per cent said they were concerned about the lack of time and money for it.

The survey was carried out last year and increased concern over budgets may reflect the uncertainty at the time that heads felt about funding.

The Government has put more than pound;12 billion extra into school funding since coming to power. It announced a restoration of the standards fund this year, providing pound;435m and allocated an extra pound;120m for the 51 authorities struggling the most to ease the funding crisis, but concerns remain.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "A hell of a lot depends on what the budgets are like next year, not least delivering workforce reform."

Raj Persaud Friday magazine 20 The free Annual Survey of Trends in Education Digest No. 16 Spring 2004 is available from the NFER. Call 01753 637002 or visit

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