Thriving, surviving or sinking? ‘Leading after Lockdown’ 2022 survey results

In the summer term 2021 we surveyed school leaders in England, asking about their experiences of the pandemic. At that time, just over a third (35%) said they had been ‘mostly’ or ‘sometimes’ thriving, including 11% who had been ‘mostly thriving’. The largest group, just over two in five (42%), said they had been ‘mostly surviving’, while almost a quarter (23%) had been ‘sometimes’ (19%) or ‘mostly’ (4%) sinking. You can see the full details in this report, published last November.  

Earlier this year we commissioned Teacher Tapp to survey school leaders again, using a similar question, with overall results shown below (Figure 1). This time, just over a quarter (28%) of leaders said they had been thriving, of whom 6% had been ‘mostly thriving’. Once again, the largest group, just over two in five (42%), said they had been ‘mostly surviving’, while 29% had been ‘sometimes’ (20%) or ‘mostly’ (9%) sinking. 

The two surveys adopted different sampling approaches, so cannot be compared directly, but the fact that a smaller proportion of leaders were ‘mostly thriving’ in 2022 (6% vs 11%) while a larger proportion were ‘mostly sinking’ (9% vs 4%), fits with the findings from our interviews with over 40 Deputy and Assistant headteachers, set out in this new Leading after Lockdown report. For example, two thirds of our interviewees argued that the current academic year has been either the same as, or even more challenging than, previous phases of the pandemic.  

Figure 1: Senior leaders’ overall experience of the pandemic (state-funded schools, January 2022)

Interestingly, when we compared responses to the 2022 survey from state-funded schools with a weighted sample of responses from private schools we saw some variation, with staff in private schools more positive overall. For example, in private primary schools, 12% of staff described themselves as ‘mostly thriving’ while 3% described themselves as ‘mostly sinking’, compared to 3% ‘mostly thriving’ and 11% ‘mostly sinking’ in state-funded primary schools. In private secondary schools, 8% described themselves as ‘mostly thriving’ and 3% described themselves as ‘mostly sinking’, compared to 5% ‘mostly thriving’ and 8% ‘mostly sinking’ in state-funded secondary schools.

Figure 2, below, shows the responses to the 2022 survey differentiated by school phase. The 2021 survey found that leaders in primary schools were less likely to say they had been thriving and more likely to say they had been sinking than their peers in secondary schools. The 2022 survey shows a similar picture. A quarter (24%) of primary leaders say they have been thriving, compared to over a third (36%) of secondary leaders. In contrast, almost a third of primary leaders (31%) have been sinking, compared to a quarter (25%) of secondary leaders.

Fig 2: Senior leaders’ overall experience of the pandemic by school phase (state-funded – Jan 2022)

Figure 3, below, shows responses to the 2022 survey differentiated by gender, showing a marked difference between how male and female leaders have experienced the pandemic. Over a third of men (36%) say they have thrived to some extent, while around one in five (21%) say they have been sinking. In contrast, around a quarter (24%) of women say they have thrived to some extent, while a third (33%) have been sinking. Our interviews with Deputy and Assistant Heads did not identify any consistent findings which might explain why women were less likely to be thriving, except for a subset of women who had young children, who commonly indicated that they were expected to work flexibly and ‘pick up the slack’ at home.

Fig 3: Senior leaders’ overall experience of the pandemic by gender (state-funded – Jan 2022)

To read the full findings from the research, download the report and executive summary here

In the next phase of this project we will be working with NAHT and ASCL to run a series of roundtable events to explore possibilities for how succession planning for senior leaders could be strengthened, at local and national levels. Working with Dr Nick Martindale, at the University of Oxford, we will analyse data from the School Workforce Census to assess wider trends in leadership careers. Please do stay in touch by following this blog.  

Photo thanks to Billesley Primary School and the Researching the Arts in Primary Schools Project

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