Survey results: Leaders, support and trust

This is the second post to introduce headline findings from a survey of almost 1500 school leaders, carried out in summer 2021. Here, we delve deeper into the data to look at where leaders felt they got support – and where they didn’t.

How well have leaders felt supported during the pandemic? 

Less than half (45%) of leaders agreed that they had been well supported in their leadership role throughout the pandemic, while one third (33%) actively disagreed (Fig 2.1).

Fig. 2.1: Leaders’ views on how well they have been supported during the pandemic

But did leaders all feel the same regardless of what type of school they were in? In Figure 2.2, below, we break responses down by school type. Leaders in independent schools (55%) and Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) (55%) were more likely to agree they had been well supported, while leaders in faith (32%) and Local Authority (LA) maintained schools (38%) were less likely to agree. Headteachers (37%) and executive heads (36%) were the most likely to disagree they had been well supported. 

Fig 2.2: Leaders’ views on how well they have been supported during the pandemic, by school type (LA maintained n=443; Faith – VA & VC n=191; Foundation n=51; SAT n= 192; MAT n=424; Special and AP n=72; Independent n=77).

Support takes various forms. One of the most basic is the provision of timely and helpful advice.

Where have school leaders gone for advice during the pandemic and how have they rated it? 

School leaders drew on a range of sources of advice during the pandemic and found advice from unions and professional associations the most useful and trustworthy. 

Leaders’ views about the advice provided by DfE were overwhelmingly negative (Fig 2.3). More than nine in 10 disagreed (93% – 65% strongly disagreed) that the DfE’s advice had been ‘timely and straightforward.’ 

Fig 2.3: Leaders views on whether the advice and guidance provided by DfE during the pandemic was timely and straightforward 

We also asked leaders whether they had trusted the advice and guidance provided by DfE during the pandemic. Two thirds (65%) disagreed (32% strongly disagreed) (Fig 2.4). 

Fig 2.4: Leaders views on whether they trusted the advice and guidance provided by DfE during the pandemic 

Conclusion: Trust, support and the DfE

Our first post reported the finding that ‘lack of timely resources from DfE’ has been the main source of stress for leaders during the pandemic, alongside the extended nature of change and uncertainty. This post adds important detail.

Nearly all (93%) leaders disagree that the DfE’s advice has been ‘timely and straightforward’ during the pandemic, with two thirds (65%) strongly disagreeing. Furthermore, just 14% say they have trusted the advice and guidance provided by DfE during the pandemic, while two thirds (65%) disagreed and a third (32%) strongly disagreed.

Taken together, these findings not only indicate strongly that the Department’s advice and guidance throughout the pandemic has been inadequate but also that they have contributed to what we will argue over the next few months amounts to a ‘crisis in school leadership.’ 

Our next posts, which will appear fortnightly during the holiday period, discuss these first headline findings further. We will publish further posts on the survey results along with a full report in the autumn, together with an analysis of interviews with primary and secondary heads.


Author: pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK

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