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Pay attention to our wellbeing or risk headteacher shortage, teachers tell MPs

School leaders called for pay rises in line with inflation and a ‘change in the narrative’ around the profession.

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School leaders have told MPs that they have been made scapegoats for Government failures during the pandemic (Danny Lawson/PA)

School leaders have told MPs that they have been made scapegoats for Government failures during the pandemic (Danny Lawson/PA)

School leaders have told MPs that they have been made scapegoats for Government failures during the pandemic (Danny Lawson/PA)

School leaders have warned MPs of a shortage of new headteachers if their wellbeing and pay are not prioritised, as they complained they had been scapegoated for Government failures during the pandemic instead of praised for their work on the front line.

Diana Ohene-Darko, an assistant headteacher and acting deputy headteacher at two London primary schools, told Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in a parliamentary briefing on Wednesday that instead of being “hailed as heroes”, teachers had been “unfairly criticised to hide Government failure”.

Afterwards, Ms Ohene-Darko told the PA news agency: “MPs have really come away today with the take-home point that actually we need to take care of our school leaders in terms of their mental health and wellbeing, because during the pandemic – and even prior to that in terms of pay, workload, and even high-stakes accountability – that’s what’s had the biggest impact for our school leaders.

“And it’s now about how do we take care of our school leaders, and what can we do to nurture them and change the narrative about who they are and what they’re doing for our education system.”

She lamented the fact that teachers had been unfairly portrayed as “incompetent or inept at what we do when actually we’re very skilled at what we do”.

Ms Ohene-Darko, who sits on the NAHT trade union’s national committee, highlighted a growing leadership crisis in England’s schools, sharing with MPs her personal account of reconsidering a headteacher position.

She told PA that up until six months ago, she had “strong” aspirations to take on a leadership role.

But she was discouraged by seeing colleagues “burn out and the sheer hours that they’re working and putting in to keep everything going at personal costs themselves”.

She is not alone in her reluctance, with research published by NAHT last year showing that more than half of school leaders who are not currently headteachers do not aspire to headship, compared with 40% in 2016.

Nearly 90% cited concerns about personal wellbeing as a deterrent to leadership, and 93% said that the Government had not supported their wellbeing during the pandemic.

School leaders also said the “decade-long, real-terms pay freeze” was also a deterrent for potential new headteachers, and called for pay “in line with inflation, year-on-year, to reflect the continued and sustained hard work of our profession”.

Ms Ohene-Darko said MPs “were very positive in terms of the recommendations that we were making and equally shocked at the statistics that we presented”.

She went on to say: “They were all very keen to get back to their constituents and talk to heads in real time in terms of what’s happening for them, and what that means for them in their school context.

“And another takeaway was looking at policy and what that might mean in terms of pay more widely and, obviously, workload and accountability where Ofsted’s concerned.”

Experienced teachers and leaders with decades of classroom and management experience do not view headship as an attractive, viable and sustainable career choicePaul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary

Labour’s shadow education minister, Stephen Morgan, who attended the briefing, tweeted: “Good to join colleagues to hear what can be done to make school leadership a less stressful and sustainable career choice”.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, who led the event, told MPs: “When we said school leadership supply is teetering on the brink of collapse, we meant it, and the response that we have had to this report suggests many within the profession agree.

“Experienced teachers and leaders with decades of classroom and management experience do not view headship as an attractive, viable and sustainable career choice.

“Awareness of the spiralling mental health and wellbeing crisis amongst leaders, and failure to address falling real-terms pay; (this) has failed to provide (the) incentive to step up and take on the responsibility of school leadership.

“The Government urgently needs to listen to school leaders’ experiences and concerns, which is why we are here in Westminster today. We thank those MPs who have attended our briefing event and urge them to use this information to push for change.”

The NAHT survey, of 2,047 school leaders in England between September and October last year, found that fewer than a third (29%) of middle leaders surveyed aspired to a more senior role in the future, with 36% indicating that senior leadership is not their goal.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of teachers and school leaders over the course of the past 18 months, supporting their pupils through the challenges of the pandemic.

“We have taken a wide range of action to support leaders and ensure teacher development remains attractive and fulfilling.

“This includes a mental health support scheme for school leaders, investing £250 million in training opportunities, and committing to help reduce workload in the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter.”

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