Britain faces headteacher crisis as new research reveals school leaders are leaving profession in droves

Camilla Turner
Researchers found that lower retention rates were common among schools with poor Ofsted ratings  - Matthew Woodward / Alamy

Britain faces a crisis in headteachers as new research reveals that poor Ofsted reports are causing school leaders to leave the profession in droves.

The vast array of lucrative career options available to former heads such as education consultants or chief executives of academy chains has also contributed to the rise, experts have said.

According to a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the retention rate among secondary heads has fallen from 91 per cent in 2012 to 87 per cent in 2015. Meanwhile for primary school heads it has fallen from 94 per cent to 92 per cent over the same period.

The trend towards consolidation of smaller schools into “super schools” has also contributed to the number of heads departing

Researchers found that lower retention rates were common among schools with poor Ofsted ratings or schools that were part of large multi-academy trusts (MATs). Headteachers who had been in post for two or more years were most likely to leave following an unfavourable inspection.

The report, titled Keeping Your Head: NFER Analysis of Headteacher Retention, used data from the School Workforce Census on the annual movement of almost 30,000 headteachers.

Carole Willis, chief executive of the NFER, said: “The leadership pipeline is vital to the success of our education system.  “Given the challenges facing the system it’s more important than ever to understand how head teacher retention rates are changing, and why.”  

John Howson, chair of the teacher recruitment site TeachVac and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, said that longer-term changes in the education sector have also contributed to the increasing number of headteachers leaving the profession.

Commenting on the research, he said: “It used to be the case that once you become a head, you had reached the top of your career and there wasn’t anything else to go.

“Now you can become a chief executive of a multi-academy trust, or an education consultant or work in an international school. These are all very lucrative options which could be filled by ex-heads”.

He added that trend towards consolidation of smaller schools into “super schools” has also contributed to the number of heads departing.

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