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  • Writer's pictureKeven Bartle

Why School Leaders Need Supervision 3: Greany et al

Leading in Lockdown (2021) and Leading After Lockdown (2022)

Greany et al's Leading in Lockdown (2021) surveyed 1491 school leaders, and conducted 58 follow-up interviews with a representative sample of respondents, to consider the pressures of the pandemic on senior leaders. The authors found that 42% of those surveyed felt that they were 'mostly surviving' with 23% saying that they were 'sometimes/mostly sinking'. 40% of respondents were planning to leave the profession within two years for reasons other than retirement and this was higher, at 46%, for headteachers and executive leaders. The report also found that "leaders who have been in the profession the longest (i.e. 26 years or more) are more likely to say they will leave early". Meanwhile, the youngest respondents and those newer to the post identified loneliness and work-life balance as a key factor in their thinking about leaving the role. Based on post-survey interview responses, the report concluded that "a failure to address the issues could mean even higher numbers choose to leave."

Only 45% of those surveyed said that they had felt well supported through the pandemic, and the authors found that "interviewees who had received coaching support felt it had been vital for them" (my emphasis). When asked to identify factors that would persuade headteachers to stay in the profession, the fifth most popular response was 'better wellbeing support' and the tenth most popular response was 'greater personal support'. Combining the numbers who opted for these two options (as I think would make sense) would see 'better/greater support' as the highest ranked option, ahead of improvements in government trust, enhanced funding, reduced workload and improved inspections, which were the otherwise highest rated responses.

Greany et al's follow up report, Leading after Lockdown (2022) was based upon a survey of 6057 school staff and follow-up interviews with a representative sample of assistant and deputy headteachers. Asking similar questions to those surveyed about how well they felt they were doing in their roles, the same proportion (42%) felt that they were 'mostly surviving' but that "fewer leaders are thriving and more are sinking than when we asked the same question in 2021". Primary and female leaders were "notably more likely to be sinking". There was, however, a decrease to 30% of respondents who said that they were planning to leave the profession although this proportion "still remains worryingly high". The report outlines different phases of the pandemic's impact on education and finds that the later phase (from September 2021 to April 2022) included newer challenges such as staff absence, pupil safeguarding and mental health concerns, exam uncertainty, the return of Ofsted and closing learning gaps in the face of poor student behaviour and absence. Fatigue, loss of morale and being close to the edge of a breakdown were themes drawn from interviews.

This new research, in the view of the authors, validated the conclusions drawn in phase 1 of the project. They also added a new suggestion for policymakers that "there is an urgent need to focus on school leadership support and development". This finding is drawn partly from the recognition that England's approach through the pandemic, whilst "relatively average overall" was "less supportive of teachers and leaders than many other countries". Greany et al point to the distinction between the British response and those of healthy school systems which "are prepared to acknowledge and address complexity, through shared sense-making and processes of collective learning and adaptation". This lack of support for school leaders is mirrored in the findings from those interviewed, two-thirds of whom have had their view of headship negatively affected during the pandemic, in part because they see the role of headteacher as being lonely, as exposing post-holders to greater risk, as involving compromise of one's core values and as having a negative impact on family life.

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