The Brutal Reality of Headteacher Stress: How to Keep Your Sanity Intact!
“don’t do what I did and get fixated on buildings and fixtures at the expense of your true role as a leader of learning”.
A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that Headteachers in challenging schools were more likely to report high levels of stress and were less likely to intend to stay in their position long-term.
As a Headteacher, you are tasked with a high-stress, high-stakes role, often taking on schools that require improvement or need to maintain high achievements. The pressure to raise standards quickly is undoubtedly present. However, given the lack of strict controls in this area, blindly delegating responsibilities is not an option. In order to support you in gaining control, I have put together ten personal recommendations for you to focus on. However, for the purpose of this co
nversation, I will narrow my focus and specifically emphasise the aspects of curriculum, teaching, and learning.
Recommendation 1: Always keep the main thing the main thing; maintain your role as the leader of learning.
As my NPQH coach once said, “don’t do what I did and get fixated on buildings and fixtures at the expense of your true role as a leader of learning”. This is the best advice I’ve received in my professional life, and it’s supported by a report from the School Improvement Commission in 2020, which recommends that ‘Headteachers need the confidence to reassert their role as leaders of learning…and, critically, have the courage of their conviction when confronted with pressures for quick wins or faced with shifting goalposts.’
Furthermore, it is crucial to provide support to teachers in fulfilling their roles as facilitators of learning. In order to achieve this objective, the first step should be to tackle two key areas: attendance and behaviour. Attendance is crucial, as without students attending classes, learning cannot take place. I have witnessed Headteachers facing challenges in improving educational standards due to the significant impact of poor attendance, which can be considered a critical point of failure. We must address disruptive behaviour head-on, as it can be a major distraction and create an unsafe and unpleasant school environment. Implementing a clear policy around behaviour and rewards, and ensuring that students respect the authority of adults, can help teachers stay focused on delivering a challenging curriculum. A practical first step is to ban mobile phones in classrooms, as many incidents of antisocial behaviour stem from their use.
Recommendation 2. Your subject leaders are indispensable. It’s essential to recognise, support, and value them for their contributions.
In my experience, the most effective senior leaders are those who have excelled as subject or middle leaders. They serve as gatekeepers of standards in their respective departments and...
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