Headship in UK independent schools is more pressurised than ever and requires greater emotional strength and resilience than a decade ago, a new study reveals.
Heads taking part in research by RSAcademics told researchers that they were now dealing with an increasing number of problems that are out of their control, with higher stakes, complexity and urgency.
The study, The New Art of Headship, launched last night (Sept 14), reveals nine major challenges that heads are now wrestling with, following up on similar research conducted in 2013.
In the latest research, “unprecedented financial and strategic pressures” was cited as a core challenge.
Also, increasingly demanding parents who are focused on “value for money” are more likely to raise contentious issues and submit complaints than previously, heads said.
Staff expectations have also changed, with many less willing or unable to take on additional duties. Heads said they are having to take a more procedural approach to managing people in order to comply with significant additional legal considerations.
Challenges around supporting student mental health were also raised by heads taking part in the qualitative research. Heads described having to deal with situations where they felt they lacked the necessary skills and knowledge.
They describe an increasing number of students with “complex needs” especially when there is an overlap between SEND and mental health issues.
While heads regarded responding to the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda as a positive development, they expressed concerns about providing leadership in sensitive, complex areas such as gender identity.
The scrutiny of social media, changes to regulations and inspections and the pressure to be more externally focused have all added to the job, heads said.
A growing number of heads were optimistic about the opportunities offered by AI, the research found.
Russell Speirs, founder and chairman of RSAcademics, said: “There have been important changes of emphasis in terms of the challenges facing heads today and the skills they need for success.
“In the last ten years, heads have faced an increasingly complex and challenging environment in which expectations of many stakeholders across the school community have changed.
“As a consequence, headship in UK independent schools is generally more pressurised and demanding and requires greater emotional strength and resilience.
“The heads we talked with discussed the increasing emotional burden of headship – in particular, the emotional challenge of dealing with pressure whilst still needing to provide the reassurance and positive leadership required by others.”
Responding to its own findings, RSAcademics has listed 10 important skills heads will need more in the future, including more creative strategic leadership and greater personal resilience.
The report looks at the way training for heads will need to adapt, and how governing boards will need to adapt the way they recruit new heads to ensure they have the right interpersonal skills and emotional resilience.
To read the New Art of Headship report, click here.