The Daily Telegraph’s education editor rang me to this evening to ask this question ahead of some research to be published by NfER tomorrow. Normally, the most common reason for the departure of a head teacher is retirement, often after about ten years in post. This stands to reason in view of the age at which most heads are appointed. There are rare examples of heads appointed young staying for a quarter of a century or even longer, but that isn’t the norm.
In the primary sector, another key reason for departure is to move from the headship of a small school to a larger one. That happens as well in the secondary sector, but I suspect less often, although a study I did some years ago suggested that the schools with the highest ratings often appointed existing heads when they had a vacancy, preferring experience over other possible qualifications.
The big change since 2010, and the Academies Act, has been the formation of MATs and the creation of many more executive head or CEO posts filled by existing head teachers moving into these newly created roles. That will have created a temporary increase in departures and probably reduced the average length of service of head teachers. However, I suspect that many converter academies didn’t change heads on becoming an academy, other schools may have parted company with their head when joining a MAT, whether forced to do so or not.
Ofsted, and before that HMI, have always played an important role in determining the fate of a head teacher. A poor inspection outcome has almost always seen the departure of the head. Indeed, before inspections became commonplace, I suspect local authorities sometimes triggered an inspection as a means of removing a head they were concerned about.
I would guess that as concerns about workload and morale have increased across the profession there will have been an increase in heads leaving, just as there have been in classroom teachers. But, head shave always had heavy workloads, especially those that also have a substantial teaching load.
Apart from becoming executive heads, there are other roles heads looking for a new challenge can look undertake, including looking to lead an international school or taking on a consultancy role. However, there will be few moving into local authority administration: a popular route in the past.
What is as important as the departure is when it is announced. The key period for head teacher recruitment is January to March. Outside that period schools can often struggle to find a replacement for a departing head teacher. As this blog has noted before, any schools that differs from the norm is likely to find recruiting a new head teacher a challenge. The greater the number of variables where the school differs from the typical, the greater the recruitment challenge as some diocese have found over the decades I have been studying the labour market for head teachers.