Press release

Headteacher retention a growing concern, according to new research

28 April 2017

New research carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that headteacher retention rates have fallen since 2012, giving cause for concern.

Teacher retention and recruitment is a widely recognised challenge facing education in England. This new study investigates the issue at senior leader level. Researchers found that, although more than 90 per cent of headteachers are retained in headship each year, retention rates have fallen between 2012 and 2015, particularly in secondary schools.

The NFER report Keeping Your Head: NFER Analysis of Headteacher Retention, published today, found retention rates for primary headteachers fell from 94 per cent in 2012 to 92 per cent in 2015 and for secondary headteachers, retention fell from 91 per cent in 2012 to 87 per cent in 2015.

The report, a combination of a quantitative analysis of School Workforce Census (SWC) data over a five-year period from 2011-2015(1) and in-depth qualitative telephone interviews with headteachers, also looks at the factors which may influence the retention rate, such as Ofsted ratings, academisation, school context and other influences.

Its key findings include:

The latest research also explores the factors influencing decisions to leave or remain in the profession. A number of recommendations, such as clarifying the career pathways of headteachers, are made for those with a role in retaining heads or developing future leaders and that might prevent effective headteachers leaving or might encourage them to return to headship.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, commented: “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. Through this new research we provide some insight into the motivations of headteachers who stay in their role or leave the profession entirely. We also identify practical steps to help schools, governors and policy-makers keep more headteachers in the profession.

This is the latest in an NFER programme of research into the teaching workforce and builds on earlier reports: Engaging teachers: NFER analysis of teacher retention and Should I stay or should I go? which explore how engaged and supported teachers feel and how this relates to their intention to remain or to leave the profession(2).

NFER is currently working on a major new analysis to improve understanding of teacher retention and workforce turnover with funding from the Nuffield Foundation. The first research update from this project is due to be published in May.


For further information contact: Sundip Gill 01753 637218 or Pippa Cox on 01753 637177.

Notes for editors

  1. The School Workforce Census (SWC) is a statutory data collection for all maintained schools and academies in England, undertaken by the Department for Education. The analysis of the SWC explored the annual movements of 29,807 primary headteachers and 6,652 secondary headteachers in England between 2011 and 2015. For every headteacher recorded in a November census, NFER analysed what that headteacher was doing in the following census (i.e. from year to year): whether they were still a headteacher (in the same school or a different one), if they had changed role (to an assistant headteacher, for example), retired (either early or at normal age) or if they were out of service. We also looked at what headteachers were doing according to the census collected two and three years later. The focus in the report is on retention in the profession as a whole, rather than on head teacher turnover between schools.
  2. Lynch, S., Worth, J., Bamford, S. and Wespieser, K. (2016). Engaging Teachers: NFER Analysis of Teacher Retention. Slough: NFER (ISBN: 978-1-911039-19-8)

    Worth, J., Bamford, S. and Durbin, B. (2015). Should I Stay or Should I Go? NFER Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession. Slough: NFER.

  3. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a charity, whose robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support our charitable purpose.; @TheNFER