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Why school leader wellbeing must be made a priority

Guest Post
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The last few years have seen schools place a growing emphasis on pupil well-being. This has in part been due to increasing numbers of teachers and school leaders beginning to recognise that investing in the wellbeing of our pupils can help secure a positive return on their attainment and, in turn, school performance.

This has been supported by numerous studies – not least by Public Health England in a 2014 report, which found that “pupils with better emotional wellbeing at age seven had a value-added key stage 2 score 2.46 points higher (equivalent to more than one term’s progress) than pupils with poorer emotional wellbeing”.

Meanwhile, successfully attaining GCSEs (five or more A*-C) was shown to be strongly correlated with higher levels of life satisfaction amongst young people.

However, whilst the findings of such reports have been widely accepted by schools, I can’t help but wonder why the fundamentals of wellbeing are so rarely considered when it comes to those who are responsible for leading our schools.

To put it another way, why has the duty of care that we show towards our children not extended as comprehensively as it should be towards our school leaders?

Amidst this drive towards wellbeing in many schools, school leadership has remained largely a 60+ hour job and endemically under-supported, at the expense of the personal lives and welfare of those who lead our schools.

Meanwhile, OFSTED, league tables and increased public scrutiny have helped created to a “football manager culture” in which heads find themselves in the impossible position of trying to create an environment that’s great for learning whilst having to constantly fear for their jobs.

The emotional cost of the leading in our schools is rarely reported but can no longer be ignored with growing numbers of school leaders leaving the profession or being signed off due to burn-out or other stress-related issues.

If nothing is done, the recruitment and retention crisis facing our schools is likely to worsen significantly, with recent reports now suggesting that English schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 heads by 2022. As always, those most affected will be the pupils.

If this impending crisis is to be averted, the harsh emotional cost of the leading in our schools today must no longer be ignored and trustees, governors and policy makers must ensure that school leader wellbeing is made a key priority sooner rather than later.

On top of this, for their part, our school leaders themselves need to learn to take charge of their wellbeing and seek out new, generative and sustainable ways of leading which will support them in their complex and challenging roles.

To support leaders to do this, on 19th October, Integrity Coaching and I will be hosting the inaugural “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to put school leader wellbeing firmly at the top of the agenda and begin the important conversations that are necessary to bring about real change in the profession.

The conference, which will take place in Euston, will explore the impact that increasing workload, public scrutiny and personal accountability has had on our school leaders and seek to make school leadership more sustainable.

To properly delve into the big issues, it will feature talks and workshops from some of the foremost experts in the fields of emotional resilience, authentic school leadership and wellbeing.

It is my hope that together we can seek to transform the daily reality of what it means to be a school leader today, and in turn, the lives and learning of children across the country.

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