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3 Things we’ve Learnt About Middle Leaders

It may well be tough at the top – but it’s no picnic a step or two down the ladder, either, as recent responses to Teacher Tapp reveal, says Laura McInerney…

Laura McInerney
by Laura McInerney
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1 | Middle leaders really do seem miserable

If you are a middle child, chances are good that upon revealing this, people suck in their cheeks and whisper, ‘uh-oh, you’re one of those,’ as common perception is that middle siblings are resentful, unhappy, and withdrawn.

Recent psychological studies have suggested this isn’t true, but, sadly, our latest Teacher Tapp survey data doesn’t have such good news for middle leaders.

Compared to heads and classroom teachers, those in middle management really do seem miserable.

In our most recent survey, 39% of secondary middle leaders said their morale was lower than last year and 17% said it was low or very low overall.

Classroom teachers were only a few percentage points happier. Headteachers, however, reported almost deliriously happy rates of morale, with one in four (25%) saying it was ‘very high’. Just 6% of middle leaders said the same.

2 | Teaching and managing is a lot of work

One reason why middle leaders may be less happy is because their role combines the high teaching load of a classroom teacher with the significant responsibilities of a leader.

Although heads spend more hours at school than middle leaders, and they write a lot more emails (50 a day isn’t unusual), they have the benefit of less marking or planning, given that if they teach at all it will only be a few hours.

Middle leaders, however, still do considerable amounts of marking (at least three hours per week), while also emailing (about 30 per day), as well as trying to balance extracurricular activities, department-wide planning, and handling behaviour, trips, and everything else.

All of which explains why 65% middle leaders are dissatisfied with the amount of leisure time they get, too (see graph below for responses to ‘How satisfied are you with the amount of leisure time you have?’). No other position registered even a 50% dissatisfaction rate. Heads of department really are the squeezed middle!

3 | …But they do switch off most when on holiday!

In a recent survey we asked teachers to imagine it was the first day by the pool on a glorious half-term holiday when – disaster strikes! – an obnoxious family with loud children turn up and start jumping into the pool and splashing around. What do you do?

Heads largely tell the kids off, classroom teachers fume quietly, but middle leaders? They are most likely to leave!

Middle leaders are also most frustrated over behaviour policies in schools.

When asked how consistently behaviour rules are enforced in their schools, over 80% of heads think their staff are all equal in ensuring children are following policies, even in corridors.

But the situation is reversed for middle leaders – with 58% feeling that staff do not consistently ensure every child is doing as they should.

Laura McInerney is an education journalist and co-founder of Teacher Tapp. Download the app for free via the App Store on Apple and Android. Follow her on Twitter at @miss_mcinerney.

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