Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Guest Post: Why Tackling School Leader Workload Is Not Enough By Viv Grant


In March, Damian Hinds announced that the DfE were going to implement measures to reduce teacher workload in an attempt to head off the recruitment and retention crises facing many schools across the country.

Whilst this is a very welcome initiative, unfortunately it is much like putting a sticking plaster on a wound when something more substantial and curative is needed.

If policy makers honestly think that measures to reduce workload are all that’s needed to stem the rising tide of leavers from the profession, then this shows just how far removed they are from the beating heart of those who are at its centre - teachers and school leaders.

So much more must be done to make the role of School Leadership sustainable amidst the growing challenges our Heads face on a daily basis.

The pace and volume of change over the past decade has led to increased ambiguity, inconsistency, insecurity and staggeringly high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability. Meanwhile, the emphasis on data, results and policies such as academisation, free schools etc have only served to further complicate life as a School Leader.

As a result, Head teachers find themselves having to respond to a range of often conflicting national policy agendas. Many of which draw them away from their central school leadership role and into the world of local politics and excessively complicated levels of bureaucracy. The strain for many can be too much.

Yet the system seems immune to this fact and chooses to ignore the real reasons as to why so many school leaders are leaving the profession. Workload may be a contributing factor but it is not the sole one. School Leaders are leaving the profession because their needs as human beings are not being attended to. This is because we have yet to develop an accurate understanding of the support needs of school leaders.

Along with increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, I believe neglect in meeting Head teacher’s psychological and emotional needs has become a major contributing factor to Head teacher attrition and early retirement.

Whether Heads are new in post or are well established and long serving, too often the predominate type of support that they receive is that which is concerned with meeting the strategic and operational aspects of the role. Their emotional needs are often neglected and this is where the system falls down in fulfilling its duty of care for school leaders.

Consequently, Head teachers often sacrifice the meeting of their own needs in order to meet the needs of those they serve. This level of constant giving, without moments and opportunities for renewal built into their leadership life can often lead to illness and for some, burn out.

This has to be understood and taken seriously because if the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders are not met, not only do our School Leaders themselves suffer but all school improvement efforts are also put at risk.

I fear this situation has been further compounded with local authorities now diminishing in size, meaning that there have been fewer and fewer opportunities where Heads can come together, to offer support for one another, and experience a real sense of collegiality and shared purpose to help combat this.

I feel this reduction of support has been felt across the profession and that’s why on the back of many requests from School Leaders, last year I began hosting “Education for the Soul” Conferences to offer a chance where Heads can have honest conversations about the issues they’re facing, replenish their passion and sense of purpose, and discover how to best support their own needs amidst the challenging demands of Headship.

Whilst I’ve seen what an incredible truly restorative events these can be, I still fear far more needs to be done across the country if we are to tackle this recruitment and retention crisis. We need a whole new conversation around how we support great leadership in schools and to find solutions that takes care of the “Person in the role”.

Meanwhile, policy makers finally recognise that workload measures are not enough. Instead they must learn that if they want help create outstanding schools, they must provide School Leaders and Headteachers with outstanding support.

The price of continually failing to do so is one we can no longer afford to pay. As when we fail to adequately recognise what it takes to create ‘Great School Leaders’, we also fail our children and their hopes of a better tomorrow.

Our children deserve the best care and education and our school leaders also deserve the best care that can be provided so that they can remain in the profession, fulfil their vocations and meet society’s hopes and dreams for our future generations.

Viv has been in the education profession for over twenty five years. She is a former primary head teacher and has been a lead trainer and consultant for a number of educational training bodies. Now as an Executive Coach and Director of Integrity Coaching, Viv works daily with others who have taken on the mantle of school leadership.

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