Female teacher wearing a facemask standing at a white board at the front of pupils.

New research has revealed the impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on senior staff in Welsh schools.

According to a Swansea University report their wellbeing is not only lower than the UK average but senior leaders also experienced moderate to high stress with more than half displaying depressive symptoms.

More than 170 senior leaders from schools across Wales took part in the Covid-19 School Leadership Survey which aimed at exploring the burden and stress that school heads and senior leadership staff experienced during Covid-19.

Their responses have now formed the basis of a new report, led by Dr Emily Marchant, from the Department of Education and Childhood Studies and Population Data Science in collaboration with the National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales.

The Covid-19 Senior Leadership Study Report 2022 was conducted through the HAPPEN Wales primary school network, part of a wider international study through the Covid-19 Health Literacy Network which spans more than 30 countries.

Previous research had looked at the impact of school closures on pupils’ health and wellbeing and the learning and development challenges for teaching and support staff, but Dr Marchant explained there is a gap in evidence exploring the effects of the pandemic on headteachers and senior leadership figures.

She said: “This is an important area because headteachers and senior school leaders have been exposed to a whole new working situation and environment, requiring decision-making and leadership relating to the numerous challenges they have had to master and manage.

“They are responsible for all aspects of school life and had to cope with particularly high demands during Covid. A report commissioned by the National Academy for Educational Leadership has discussed a potential crisis in leadership in education relating to the recruitment and retention of headteachers, and the important role that senior leader wellbeing can play in avoiding this.”

The survey revealed that during the pandemic, 75 per cent of the staff said they worked at a level they knew wasn’t good for them, 93 per cent put in extra hours and the majority admitted to feeling mentally exhausted by the job.

It also asked school leaders to rate the health needs of their staff and when it came to mental health, 91 per cent said the most important issue was stress and coping. Internalised problems such as anxiety and depression were also rated highly.

Dr Marchant said: “In order to protect the health and wellbeing of senior school leaders, a focus should be placed on preventative programmes to enhance the resources available for senior leaders in coping with work-related demands and stressors. This must be considered from an individual, organisational and systems level to support senior leaders in their role”

The report now recommends:

  • A more strategic approach to supporting the wellbeing of educational leaders in Wales;
  • Greater clarity on the extent and quality of leadership development provision to specifically support leaders wellbeing; and,
  • Further research charting changes over time in leaders’ experience of their wellbeing which could contribute to strengthening the evidence base in this area.

Project collaborator Tom Crick, Professor of Digital & Policy and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Civic Mission at the University, added: “Recruitment and retention of school staff is a national priority, especially in the context of the leadership needed at all levels to successfully implement the new Curriculum for Wales alongside wider education system-level reforms currently taking place.

“Addressing wellbeing across the sector could contribute to this, as we slowly emerge into a post-Covid new normal for education in Wales.”

Dr Marchant will now be presenting her findings at the European Public Health Conference in Berlin, Germany later this month. 



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