Headteachers/Principals: Go on – take a day off

HOLIDAY TIME !! by MyLifeStory.


Earlier this week I met with one of our most experienced and exceptional headteachers who is due to retire at the end of the session.

In a bespoke winding down arrangement we have agreed that she can take ten days unpaid leave during the year.  She has spread these days over the course of the year to provide a number of extended weekends.

The impact on her health and well-being has been incredible and she feels so much more able to undertake her job – to the benefit of herself and the school.

In line with my recent reflection on the mental health and well-being of teachers I wondered if this might be something we could consider in a different kind of arrangement with other headteachers?

Three years ago I moved from being a headteacher to being an educational administrator at East Lothian Council. My holiday entitlement changed from 65 days a year, to 27 days plus public holidays. Yet despite the apparent loss in days the biggest difference has been that I can now take days off when I want – even during term time.  As rule I try to avoid extended periods of absence during term time but I do try to take a number of single days throughout the year to create long weekends.  The result of this is that I can avoid the kind of accumulation of fatigue that used to occur when I was a headteacher.

We currently have a problem recruiting headteachers – people look at the stress involved, the relatively low pay differential between a depute headteacher and headteacher and decide that the negatives outweigh the positives. So with that in mind I’d like to make a suggestion:

What if headteachers could trade in some of the current holiday entitlement for a number of single day holidays which which can be taken during term time?  As a starting point in that negotiation I would suggest that the exchange rate would be two days for one day. So if a headteacher wanted to have five days leave throughout the year during term time they would have to forfeit ten days of their current holiday entitlement.  To be honest I would have gone for something like this as I probably spent that number of days in school during holiday periods trying to catch up and prepare.  From an employer’s perspective we could arrange for a proportion of these forfeited days to be taken at an agreed time and in so doing enable collegiate tasks to be undertaken – e.g. cluster working , particularly if other colleagues were working at the same time.

The issues which would have to be resolved  would be:

Would schools fall to bits without the headteacher being there for a day? – No – certainly not in well managed schools

What would parents think? – I believe they would understand and see it as positive step as long as it was properly explained.

What would staff think?  -There would probably be many teachers who would be upset by such an arrangement but perhaps we need to start to see there being some perks for taking on such a job.

So what would I be saying to headteachers?

Go on – take a day off!!!




Building consideration for mental health and well-being into the planning process for education

stressed and worried by Bhernandez.


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to a draft implementation strategy for A Curriculum for Excellence and have identified a key element in its success to be a strong focus on maintaining and supporting the mental health and well being of teachers and headteachers.

All too often people in positions such as mine can focus upon the technical elements of implementation and see it a problem to be solved through a logical project management approach.  I have to admit that on many occasions in my career as an educational leader that I have succumbed to temptation of the “grand plan” approach – which took no account of the how it impacted upon the mental health and well being of those who would have to implement the “plan”.

There can be no doubt that any curriculum innovation can bring with it significant concerns and pressures which can have a negative impact upon the health of those who work in schools.  If we add to this some of the financial pressures on public services which might come about as a consequence of the credit crisis then the potential for an explosive mix is made even more likely.

To that end I believe that a key factor to be borne in mind throughout the implementation process is how we – and I do mean we – maintain a focus upon the mental health and well being of our colleagues.

I’ve been very impressed by the Teacher Support Network and any service which offers help and support must be welcomed. But I would like to see us move that focus “upstream”, i.e. build some consideration about the impact upon mental health and well being into the planning phase – as opposed to treating the symptoms of the consequences of our plans – regardless of how unintended they might be. 

Out and about

I cycled to work on Thusday as part of the East Lothian Council’s health week. Richard Parker and I cycled from Carfraemill to Haddington (17 miles)

On Friday evening I set off for an adventure with the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland on the Alba Explorer from Port Edgar to Eyemouth. What a fabulous experience!!!

Alba Explorer off the Isle of May

The highlight was the reach from the Isle of May to the Bass Rock in force 7, occasionally force 8 gale – despite being seasick – it must rank as one of the most thrilling moments of my life. OYT is a wonderful organisation and one that every school should try to involve in the lives of their children. If it can have a profound effect on a broken down 49 yr old then what might it do for child or young person?

How do we avoid teacher burnout?

How can some teachers work in the same school for forty years and leave the job as enthused as they were on their first day, whilst others in the same situation feel completely burntout and exhausted?

The signs of burnout tend to be more mental than physical. They can include feelings of:

  • Frustration and powerlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Being drained of emotional energy
  • Detachment, withdrawal, isolation
  • Being trapped
  • Having failed at what you’re doing
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Cynicism (people act out of selfishness and nothing can be done about it)

I recently came acros a couple of interesting articles  Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention and Understanding and Preventing Teacher Burnout.

I believe we all have a duty to be more aware of this debilitating emotional and physical state.

Over the next few weeks I’ll return to this theme with a view to exploring possible solutions.