The DfE has now published the answers to their spring 2016 survey of teachers and school leaders. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-voice-omnibus-may-to-july-2016-survey-dfe-questions among the interesting questions asked was one about aspirations to leadership. Since the abolition of a mandatory qualification for headship, this sort of survey is the only real way of knowing whether there will be sufficient candidates for senior posts that fall vacant in future years.
Personally, I doubt there will ever be a serious problem in the secondary sector since the ratio of deputies to head teachers should allow for sufficient aspiring senior leaders, especially as headship is no longer the end point of a career for many in the secondary sector.
If there is going to be an issue with leadership numbers it will be in the primary and special school sectors. Sadly, we don’t have information about the special school sector. That is an oversight needing correction in future surveys, as it is too often overlooked and the issue of leadership is critical for the schools education our young people with special needs.
As far as the primary sector is concerned, the DfE’s 2015 School Workforce Census identified 23,800 deputy and assistant heads in post in the primary sector in England in November 2015. We can assume most were still there when the 2016 survey was conducted by NfER for the DfE. Thus, the 26% of senior leaders not already a head teacher likely to look for a headship within the next three years equates to just under 6,000 teachers. What the survey didn’t ask, was how many were likely to be looking in the next year?
Assuming equal numbers over each of the three years would mean some 2,000 aspiring head teachers across England each year. Now, the next question is, how many vacancies are there likely to be? TeachVac is now collecting that data, so in time we will have up to date information. However, looking back over past trends, head teacher vacancies fluctuated around 1,800 to 2,000 during the first decade of this century. Now, if we assume the lower number, since amalgamations have reduced the number of schools over time, we could still need to conclude that virtually all the 2,000 aspirant deputies and assistant heads would all have to be suitable to be appointed as a head teacher for supply to be sufficient. However, some vacancies will be filled by existing head teachers changing schools; perhaps 20-25% of vacancies are filled in this way. This would reduce demand for non-head teachers to be appointed as ahead teacher to around 1,500 per year.
We also must assume that the applicants are either in the right places for the jobs or prepared to be mobile to move to where the vacancies arise. As the primary sector contains a significant number of faith schools, especially Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, we must also assume that there are sufficient numbers within the total to meet the needs of these schools for specific types of applicants, including adherents to the particular faith.
Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to know whether the 1,500 will be sufficient, but it won’t be if the role of being a head teacher looks unattractive for whatever reason. No doubt the NCTL understand this issue and are planning for the consequences of what the survey tells us about the future supply of school leaders.