There has been renewed interest in the issue of school leadership recently. Partly this is because of a concern that there might not be enough candidates to fill the vacancies being recorded. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of good data around to explain what is happening at present. Between 1983 and 2012, I collected regular information on the turnover of school leaders, publishing two reports each year for many years, before stopping in 2012 when there was little interest in the topic. That was a mistake that I now acknowledge. Hopefully TeachVac www.teachvac.com will start to put that right from the autumn.
In the TeachVac’s evidence to the Commons Select Committee inquiry on Teacher Supply submitted last autumn we raised the issue of why some schools find it a challenge to secure a new head teachers? We concluded that:
Since the abolition of a compulsory qualification for headship – the NPQH – it has been difficult to know objectively, in advance, whether the number of aspiring head teachers meets the likely demand. Now that the bulge in retirement numbers has passed, the demand for head teachers should have returned to a figure more in line with long-term demand. However, a number of factors, including the creation of new schools such as Free Schools, UTCs, Studio Schools and new academies, as well as Executive Heads of multi-academy trusts, has probably increased the demand for head teachers to a level above the long-term trend, especially in the secondary sector.
Over the past quarter century, a number of factors have affected the labour market for new head teachers. Faith schools, and especially Roman Catholic schools within that group of schools, have consistently found it more of a challenge to recruit new head teachers than community schools. This may have been partly a reflection of the changing nature of society in England.
More generally, any school that has one or more factors from the following list may have experienced greater difficulty in recruiting a school leader;
- size – both very small and very large;
- limited age range – infant, junior or middle compared with primary or secondary;
- single sex schools;
- limited section of the ability range;
- some specific types of special schools where relocation is necessary due to the small number of such schools;
- time of year vacancy occurs if outside the key January to March period;
- unusually low salary;
- performance, especially on Ofsted inspections but also in examination or key stage results.
Finally, geography can play a part. In regions where house prices are higher than average this may restrict the number of applicants willing to move into the area but permit outward movement from possible candidates for headship. There has also been concern about areas with limited hinterlands such as coastal fringes of England. Areas where there may be limited scope for work for a partner may also be less attractive to potential head teachers. There are exceptions to these rules, but the occasional outstanding new head does not provide a solution to any specific problem.
TeachVac evidence to Education Select Committee http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/education-committee/supply-of-teachers/written/24299.html
These factors all still apply.
Interestingly, as the Inquiry hasn’t yet reported, TeachVac took the opportunity to submit some further evidence on the 2016 recruitment round. There appears to be some formatting issues with the non-pdf version, so best to use: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/education-committee/supply-of-teachers/written/35068.pdf
As an update on leadership, I looked at the number of people in the primary sector that were not head teachers, but were shown as on the Leadership Scale in the 2015 School Workforce Census. This group is generally where the appointment of new head teachers come from after allowing for head teachers changing schools.
There were 14,200 people in the key 30-44 age groups identified in the census as on the Leadership Scale working in the primary sector, but not a head teacher. Assume a 60:40 split between deputies and assistant heads; the census isn’t specific, so this is something of a guess. That would leave 8,650 possible deputies. Now assume a ten year tenure, so 20% might be too early in their appointment as a deputy to seek a headship. This reduces the pool to around 7,000. Some of these won’t have aspirations to progress to a headship. Allow a further 20% in that category and you are left with around 5,500 for possibly 1,200 posts in a typical year, based on past experience. This is a ratio of 4.5:1. Of course, some posts will attract more applicants, but other will attract fewer for the reasons stated above.
Now if you take out the 30-34 age group as generally being too inexperienced for a headship, you are left with 10,100 on which to base the calculations. This brings the ratio down to around 3.5:1; not a healthy enough number to ensure an adequate supply before the issue of quality and aptitude is factored into any equation. I have also been reminded of a recent NAHT Edge survey of middle leaders/deputies which indicated that only 36% aspired to headship. Were that to be the case, then these numbers might look just a bit scary.