Headteacher Retention Research

Project code: LFSC

What is the project about?

This project looks at the challenges of retaining headteachers. It will focus on headteachers who leave the profession or move to less challenging schools, or who are thinking of doing so. It will explore their motivations for leaving and what could have encouraged them to stay in their role. We are also looking to hear from headteachers who have stayed.

Recruiting and retaining teachers is a widely recognised challenge for the education profession. More recently, challenges around headteacher recruitment and retention have also been highlighted. It has become clear that increased recruitment at all levels must also be complemented with effective retention strategies if concerns over the long term sustainability of the workforce are to be addressed. However, there is a lack of evidence around this issue, particularly about the characteristics of schools that face the greatest challenge attracting and keeping headteachers.

This research will combine quantitative and qualitative analyses. It will provide a clear analysis of patterns in headteacher retention across the sector, highlighting those schools that face the biggest challenges retaining their leaders. It will also provide a qualitative insight into the motivations of headteachers who stay in their role, to move schools or leave the profession entirely. It will explore how more leaders could be supported to stay in headship.

Who is conducting the research?

This study is being carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in collaboration with Ambition School Leadership.

What are the research aims?

This project will explore the following three main questions:

  1. What are the patterns of headteacher retention and turnover nationally and in different types of school?
  2. What motivates headteachers to leave their role, to consider leaving, to move to a less challenging school or outside of teaching altogether?
  3. What can schools and policymakers do to maximise headteacher retention? What will the study involve?

The study will use a combination of quantitative analysis of the School Workforce Census and qualitative analysis of telephone interviews with headteachers who are planning to leave, or have recently left their roles.

When will the study happen?

Date Activity
Aug - Oct 16 School Workforce census analysis
Telephone interviews with up to 20 headteachers
Oct - Feb 16 Analysis and reporting
Mar 17 Publication and dissemination

How will schools benefit from taking part?

This research will highlight the actions that can be taken by schools and governors to support headteachers in their roles and reduce the numbers who move school or leave. It will also directly inform the support that Ambition School Leadership provides to headteachers to enable them to continue working in the most challenging schools.

How will NFER and partners use and protect the data collected?

All data gathered during this project will only be used for the purposes of this evaluation. It will be treated in strict confidence and will be collected and held in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. Research participants will be afforded informed consent to their data being shared by NFER for the purposes of the research. Qualitative data will be anonymised. No individuals will be identifiable in any report arising from this evaluation.

How will the findings be used?

The findings will be published in a report in March 2017. This study will provide evidence-based implications for policy and practice, including, for example: ideas governors can use to retain headteachers; and policy suggestions to improve retention rates both nationally and in areas most affected by headteacher shortages and high turnover. It will also directly inform the support that Ambition School Leadership provides to headteachers to enable them to continue working in the most challenging schools. The findings will be of interest to Government, schools, academy chains, local authorities, governor associations, school leadership professional bodies and organisations providing teacher training and development.

Who can I contact for more information?

For more information please contact: Sarah Lynch 01753 637 480, s.lynch@nfer.ac.uk.

Further information about this project