Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed first-hand how high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have eroded the profession’s ability to take care of, and meet the human needs of, those at the frontline.
It came as no surprise to me when The Key’s 2017 State of Education Survey Report found that “86% of school leaders think the perception of the profession has got worse over the past five years and believe this is negatively affecting morale.”
School leaders are now endemically under-supported, with little help or training provided to enable them to deal with the intense demands of the role. The increased pressure for results, competitive league tables and the football manager-style ‘hire and fire’ culture in some schools has intensified and made a bad situation worse.
The pace and volume of change in our system over the past decade has only exacerbated matters. Increased ambiguity, inconsistency, insecurity and staggeringly high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have further added to the pressures that many already feel.
How do I know this? Well, increasingly over the past few years, I’ve seen many school leaders pushed close to the brink of a nervous breakdown as a direct result of changes within the system. I‘ve received desperate pleas from the partners of heads, and heard through emails and phone calls of inhumane treatment of some who have since ‘disappeared’ from the system.
I fear more and more for the loss of humanity in our education system. SATs and GCSE results, Ofsted grades and league tables now appear to be a greater priority than the health and wellbeing of our teachers and school leaders. This isn’t how education should be. This is not how we fulfil society’s hopes and dreams for our children. Those on the frontline need better support.
This has to be understood and taken seriously. If the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders aren’t met, then not only do our school leaders themselves suffer, but school improvement efforts are also put at risk.
As someone who cares deeply about education and the future we’re creating for our children, I try to do my part. Each year we host an annual ‘Education for the Soul’ conference, which aims to give leaders a space where they can have honest conversations about the issues they’re facing, replenish their passion and sense of purpose, and discover how best to have their own needs met amidst the myriad challenges they face.
I’ve seen how restorative these events these can be, but it’s clear that there’s still much more that needs to be done across the system to stem the tide of leavers departing the profession. We need a whole new conversation around wellbeing and supporting great leadership in schools. A conversation centred on how we can learn to properly take care of the ‘person in the role’.
The price of continually failing to do so is one we can no longer afford to pay. When we fail to adequately recognise what it takes to create great school leaders today, we also fail our children and their hopes of a better tomorrow.
Viv Grant is the director of Integrity Coaching, which specialises in tackling professional and emotional isolation among school leaders