Why School Leader Well-being Must Become A Priority

18/09/2017 09:18 BST | Updated 18/09/2017 09:18 BST


The last few years have seen schools place a growing emphasis on pupil well-being.

This has in part been due to increasing numbers of teachers and school leaders beginning to recognise that investing in the well-being of our pupils can help secure a positive return on their attainment and, in turn, school performance.


This has been supported by numerous studies - not least by Public Health England in a 2014 report, which found that "pupils with better emotional well-being at age seven had a value-added key stage 2 score 2.46 points higher (equivalent to more than one term's progress) than pupils with poorer emotional well-being".

Meanwhile, successfully attaining GCSEs (five or more A*-C) was shown to be strongly correlated with higher levels of life satisfaction amongst young people.


However, whilst the findings of such reports have been widely accepted by schools, I can't help but wonder why the fundamentals of well-being are so rarely considered when it comes to those who are responsible for leading our schools. 

To put it another way, why has the duty of care that we show towards our children is not extended as comprehensively as it should be towards our school leaders?

Amidst this drive towards well-being in many schools, School leadership has remained largely a 60+ hour job and endemically under-supported, at the expense of personal lives and welfare of those who lead our schools.

Meanwhile, OFSTED, league tables and increased public scrutiny have helped created to a "football manager culture" in which headteachers find themselves in the impossible position of trying to create an environment that's great for learning whilst having to constantly fear for their jobs.

The emotional cost of the leading in our schools is rarely reported but can no longer be ignored with growing numbers of school leaders leaving the profession or being signed off due to burn-out or other stress-related issues.

If nothing is done, the recruitment and retention crisis facing our schools is likely to worsen significantly, with recent reports now suggesting that English Schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 Heads by 2022. As always, those most affected will be the pupils.

If this impending crisis is to be averted, the harsh emotional cost of the leading in our schools today must no longer be ignored and trustees, governors and policy makers must ensure that School Leader well-being is made a key priority sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, our School Leaders themselves need to learn to take charge of their well-being and seek out new, generative and sustainable ways of leading which will support them in their complex and challenging roles.

My Top tips How to survive as a school leader

• Learn to put yourself first. It is only when your own needs have been met, that you can effectively meet the needs of others.

• Make time to think about what you want from your career and your life outside school. Ensure that as far as possible, you make quality time for you, your friends and family.

• Stop and reflect on times when you have been praised for your work as a leader. They will be there. It's just that when stress levels are high and our emotions run low, we tend to focus in on the negative and filter out the good.

• Be brave. If a parent or a member of staff has been rude or abusive, don't avoid dealing with the situation. It will only get bigger and become more of an irritant. Ask yourself: "What do I want the outcome to be from this meeting or conversation?" Then identify the actions that you will need to take.

• Recognise that one of the ways in which we build inner strength is when we learn to ask for help. When we ask for help, we accept that we need relationships and meaningful connections with others to help us overcome life's challenges.

• Find a fellow professional who will create a safe space where you can be vulnerable, let down your mask and talk through the impact your emotions have had on your thought processes and behaviour. In doing so, you will gain a deeper understanding of how your thoughts and emotions have shaped your ability to be resilient.

• Regularly take time to think about your leadership style and skills. Learn to identify "peak" times in your career when you have performed at your best. Ask yourself: what skills, knowledge and qualities did I display? Have I developed these leadership attributes any further? What else do I need to do to develop myself as a leader?

• Don't allow your diary to become so full with back-to-back meetings that you don't have time to stop and think. Plan for thinking time and book it in, where possible, during the work day. This means you will do less worrying and fretting at home in the wee small hours.

Viv Grant is the director of Integrity Coaching, an author, occasional education commentator for The Guardian and a passionate advocate for school leaders.