Figures published by the TES from the database I created over 25 years ago, and left with the TES when I retired in 2011, suggest that the highest percentage of primary schools for thirteen years failed to recruit a new head teacher at their first attempt during January 2013. Give that January is the month that witnesses the largest number of new recruitment adverts for heads, a 26% re-advertisement ratio, rising to over 40% for schools within the Greater London area, must be a matter for concern.
Perhaps it was unsurprising that the government spokesperson when asked to comment on the figures said according to a BBC report that, “we have always been aware that as the baby-boomer generation started to retire we were likely to see a rise in the number of vacancies.” Well now that comment begs two questions. Firstly, has there been a rise in vacancies, and secondly is it fair to still be citing the baby boom for a rise in vacancies and the subsequent challenges in filling these vacancies?
According to a spokesperson for Education Data Surveys that compiled the TES Report, there were 261 vacancies for new primary head teachers advertised for the first time during January 2013. In January 2009, there were 416 advertisements for head teachers of all types of schools, so the 216 primary vacancies this January doesn’t look like out of line with previous years.
The second question relates to how fair is it to attribute the present problem to the retirements by baby boomers? Heads retiring at 60 this summer would have been born in 1953, Coronation Year. Those retiring at 65 would certainly have been part of the immediate post-war baby bulge, but as the DfE 2012 Workforce Survey only found around 1,000 primary heads over the age of 60 in November 2012, it would require virtually all of them to decide to retire this year to have any impact on the figures. Since the number of vacancies doesn’t seem out of line with recent years, any retirement boom among the over-60s will probably have been counter—balanced by a reduction in the retirement rate among the approximately 3,700 primary head teachers in the 55-59 age group last November.
So was there a baby boom in 1953: apparently not according to the Office of National Statistics
Live births in the United Kingdom
Although higher by around 10,000 than in the years either side of the Coronation, and perhaps that event had some effect on the figures, the number of live births in 1953 across the United Kingdom was around 200,000 below the really baby boomer year of 1947 when I entered this world (Office for National Statistics, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Live+Births+and+Stillbirths#tab-data-tables).
Indeed, the DfE might now park the baby boomer excuse until at least 2017 when it might again be worth using as an excuse based upon these figures. Even then, I would approach the task with some caution.
So, are the NAHT right in suggesting rising targets and negative rhetoric from ministers as the cause of deputies shunning the top job? They may have a point, as the recent tragic death of a Worcestershire primary head teacher pointed up, the job is not without considerable stresses and strains and the lack of a credible middle-tier of support since local authorities had their budgets slashed probably doesn’t make the job any more attractive.
However, there may be other structural reasons for the rise in re-advertisements, especially in London. The asymmetric nature of house prices that allows Londoners to move out of the capital and trade-up to a better property, but means those outside the capital cannot afford to move in may be one issue restricting supply. However, a bigger issue may be the lack of deputy heads in the age-group one would expect to be seeking headships. I will return to analyse this point and the type of schools that may be suffering unduly in the contest for a new head teacher in a future blog. But, let me end with what I said about headship recruitment last summer in the report that I wrote for the Pearson Think Tank.
The market for head teachers in London is always complicated by the fact that the price of housing in many parts of the capital restricts the likelihood of inward movement by senior staff working in schools outside London. The increase in salary is often not enough to compensate for any such move, despite the average recorded salary in the 2010 School Workforce Survey being £99,000 for a secondary head teacher and almost £72,000 for a primary school head teacher – both some £15,000 more than the recorded average for a head teacher working outside of London
In general, it seems that the larger the number of different factors affecting a school seeking a new head teacher, the greater the risk of disappointment at first advertisement. Thus, a small school that is a faith school and also has relatively poor results may find the search for a new head teacher more of a challenge than a larger community school with results slightly above average located in an area with average housing prices that advertises at a point in the year, specifically between January and March, when the majority of candidates are looking for headship vacancies for September.