Is there a headship crisis?

According to a story in The Times today, one in ten schools is losing its head teacher each year. Reading the headlines of the story, outside the pay wall, there are examples of schools advertising up to seven times to find a replacement and of schools without a permanent head for three years. Local authorities, still seemingly worth talking to about schools, even by this Tory supporting newspaper, tell of high turnover of heads and head teachers of small schools being enticed away to larger schools by promises of more money. All this makes for a crisis.

Between the early 1980s and 2012, I studies the labour market for head teachers on a regular basis. I stopped, partly because I didn’t’ think there was a crisis at that time and partly because I left my long-term database with my former employers. Since the establishment of TeachVac, I have gradually started to rebuild the data on leadership turnover and will report fully this time next year when there is sufficient comparative data.

A turnover of ten per cent isn’t, in historical terms, anything out of the ordinary, especially as some of the total will have been made up from head teachers required for new schools due to increasing pupil numbers and the 14-18 UTCs and studio schools as well as genuine ‘free schools’. Although there probably not as many of these as a previous Secretary of State might have wished.

For most of the early part of this century, re-advertisement rates for secondary heads were in the 20%+ range; for primary schools, the rate exceeded 30% in most years between 1997/98 and 2009/10, so re-advertisements are nothing new in the leadership market. Indeed, recruiters have made a tidy sum from encouraging schools to take ever larger and glossier advertisements on the basis of recruitment challenges. As regular readers know, TeachVac challenges this principle by offering a free service.

Any school seeking a new head teacher for September that advertises in January and runs a sensible recruitment round should have no problems recruiting unless it has one or more of the following characteristics:

It is a faith school,

It is located in London,

It is a small or very large school,

If a secondary school, it is single-sex or selective (or a secondary modern in a selective area).

Two or more factors and it needs to consider carefully how to recruit a new head teacher, especially if outside of the normal recruitment season from January to March where around 50% of vacancies are advertised each year.

Advertising outside the first quarter of the year, when fewer candidates are looking to move schools, is also often a waste of money, as is putting off candidates through the content of the advertisement or taking a long time over the process; candidates often apply for several posts and may be hired by another school if the process is too long.

Being a school in challenging circumstances has become more of a handicap as MATs and governing bodies seem to think the head teacher needs changing if there is a poor Ofsted report or a disappointing set of examination or test results. There are cases where a change of leadership is appropriate, but not, in my view, in every case.

Without a mandatory qualification for headship, it is difficult to know in details the size of the talent pool for future head teachers, something that should worry those responsible for the system at the EFA and NCTL, since a lack of supply will always drive up the price of a good or commodity and headship is no different to any other type of job in that respect.

At least some head teachers can look forward to recognition through the honours system, and I was delighted to see Professor John Furlong honoured in the latest list for his lifetime of work in teacher education. John, your OBE is a well-deserved mark of respect.

 

 

 

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