Leading under covid: time to ease the strain on schools
In partnership with Headteachers' Roundtable
17th June 2020
Over the course of the Covid-19 crisis, research has repeatedly highlighted worrying trends regarding teachers’ and school leaders’ wellbeing and stress levels.
- At the start of the crisis, 47% of teachers and school leaders said they drink alcohol to cope with a difficult day and many were drinking more due to lockdown. Headteachers and senior leaders were the most likely to report increases in the amount they are drinking: around half said they were drinking more and over 1 in 10 said they were drinking a lot more than usual.
- Later into lockdown another survey found that 49% of secondary teachers and leaders and 59% of primary of teachers and leaders were experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than usual. Of course, some of this was due to fears of the virus itself but large proportions were also stressed about the exam process, supporting families and pupils that need extra help and uncertainty over how schools will operate in future.
More recent findings paint an increasingly worrying picture, especially regarding the wellbeing of headteachers and senior leaders:
- 1 in 4 head teachers say that they are more likely to leave their role in the next year due to the impact the crisis has had on them.
- 75% of head teachers report experiencing feelings of burnout, as do 45% of other senior leaders.
This week, a consultation survey of 77 headteachers, conducted by The Headteacher’s Roundtable, provided further insights into some leaders’ concerns with coverage in the TES highlighting how Covid-19 has exacerbated existing pressures.
We conducted analysis to support The Headteacher’s Roundtable to understand school leaders’ responses to the consultation.
Leaders were asked:
- What needs to be stopped?
- What needs to change?
- What do we need to start doing?
There are important caveats about the survey which we flag in our analysis and these mean that the responses are not generalisable and should not be considered representative of the profession. However, they do tell us about some leaders’ concerns and worries.
Many of these concerns expressed in the consultation, which tended to focus on accountability, existed well before the crisis. However, given the considerable challenges schools face in the coming months, and the accumulation of research demonstrating that leaders are really feeling the strain, we must consider how things can change to relieve the pressure.Given the considerable challenges schools face in the coming months, and the accumulation of research demonstrating that leaders are really feeling the strain, we must consider how things can change to relieve the pressure Click To Tweet
So what next?
We have been looking at questions relating to accountability for a long time at The Centre for Education and Youth and have suggested a number of approaches that could lighten the burden on school leaders while helping to provide more effective accountability. For example:
- Using three-year averages to communicate schools’ results, an idea we have since developed with UCL’s Professor John Jerrim and written about here. This would reduce the ‘do or die’ nature of results while still giving parents timely information about their children’s school. This is something unions also support and which we are now working on in further detail with support from Pearson and UCL.
- Abolishing the outstanding grade, something that was explicitly mentioned by a few consultation respondents.
- Developing a system of matrix sampling, providing a picture of pupils’ achievements across the curriculum more broadly. This would be especially beneficial for primaries, who can feel shackled by SATs’ focus on English and maths, again something that was mentioned repeatedly in the consultation responses.
- Experimenting in approaches to inspection and accountability reform, since the education system doesn’t have an especially good grasp of what accountability should entail.
- Encouraging teachers and schools to innovate, something we have been researching for our project ‘Making Waves’, and which we’ll be publishing soon.