'Urgent action' needed to stem headteacher burnout

Research shows a steady rise in headteacher stress levels, while union says up to 40 heads call its helpline for support each day.

head burnout

Headteachers are at risk of burning themselves out “on an industrial scale” unless urgent action is taken to provide them with support, according to a report published today.

Sinéad Mc Brearty, chief executive of the Education Support charity, is tomorrow publishing “concerning” research showing rising stress in the teaching profession, including that the number of headteachers who report being stressed has risen to 84 per cent this year, up from 80 per cent last year and 75 per cent the year before.

Ms Mc Brearty said heads were working "ludicrous hours" and were under "chronic stress".


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She said: “Headteachers are always headteachers. They never switch off – even when they’re doing their shopping – yet there is a performance role and pillar-of-the-community element that prevents them being able to talk openly about their problems to other people.”

The charity's Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019 includes a recommendation for school and college leaders to access to "personal and peer support".

The charity has already been bringing headteachers together in peer support groups around the country at which, it says, they are opening up about problems from having to reduce staff to make budget savings, to doubt as to whether they can continue in the job because they are so tired. 

Ms Mc Brearty added: “We’re on a  trajectory towards senior leader burnout on an industrial scale unless we get some urgent action to improve support.

"Typically, when we set up a new group, the first year will focus on professional issues that will impact the  wellbeing of an individual, but once you get into the second and third year people feel safe and have enough trust to be able to talk about more personal stuff, so people may talk about bereavement or marriage or a particular issue with one of their own kids."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said "a more proportionate accountability system and sufficient levels of funding" were needed for school leaders to be able to do their job “without sleepless nights”.

He said: “The findings of this survey reflect our own experience in terms of the unprecedented number of calls that we are currently receiving to our hotline from senior leaders who require help and support.

“This is currently running at an average of about 30 to 40 calls a day and many of these inquiries relate to extremely stressful situations such as redundancy and capability issues.

“Beyond this, there will be a large number of leaders who are not in such an extreme situation but who are coping with huge workloads, lack of sufficient funding and the crushing weight of an accountability system which is far too punitive.”

The Department for Education was contacted for comment.

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