Risk factors for work-related stress and health in head teachers

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Work-related stress (WRS) is known to cause ill-health and decreased productivity. Work in the education sector is thought to be particularly stressful. Few studies have considered risk factors for WRS and health in head teachers.


To investigate health in head teachers in West Sussex. To determine personal risk factors most likely to predict cases of WRS and of poor health in head teachers.


A cross-sectional study, in a population of 290 head teachers and principals of colleges of further education, using a validated questionnaire, ‘a short stress evaluation tool’ (ASSET) and additional questions derived from earlier studies. Results were compared with the ASSET database ‘norm’ groups: a general population of workers (GPN) group and a group of managers and professionals (MPN). ‘Caseness’ was defined as respondents who felt work was ‘very or extremely stressful’.


Head teachers had poor physical and mental health compared to the GPN group. Psychological well-being, particularly of females and primary head teachers was worse than a comparative group of managers and professionals. Teaching <5 h/week was a significant predictor of caseness and being female was the main risk factor for poor psychological well-being.


Prevalence of self-reported stress in head teachers in West Sussex is high. Female head teachers had worse health outcomes. Our study identified possible personal risk factors predicting WRS and/or poor health in head teachers.

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