Leadership trends in schools- 2020

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use teacher vacancy site is putting together its annual reviews of the labour market for teachers in England. The first of these is on leadership turnover in schools.

Here are some of the headlines from the draft report.

  • More leadership vacancies were recorded in the primary sector during 2020, while vacancies recorded in the secondary sector during 2020 remained at a similar level to 2019.
  • In the primary sector some 1,497 head teacher vacancies were recorded. The number for the secondary sector was 387 vacancies during 2020.
  • For schools advertising during the 2019-20 school year, there was a re-advertisement rate for primary schools of 28%: for secondary school headteacher vacancies, the re-advertisement rate was lower at 23%.
  • Schools in certain regions and with other characteristics that differentiates the school from the commonplace are more likely to experience issues with headteacher recruitment.
  • There were a similar number of vacancies for deputy heads in the secondary sector during 2020 than 2019. Fewer vacancies were recorded for the primary sector.
  • Secondary schools advertised slightly more assistant head teacher vacancies during 2020 than during 2019. There were fewer vacancies recorded in the primary sector during 2020 than in 2019. 
  • Tracking leadership vacancies has become more challenging as the means of recruitment have become more diversified in nature.
  • The covid-19 pandemic had a significant effect on the senior staff labour market from April 2020 until the end of the year.

What might be the outcome of the new lockdown? As the majority of vacancies at all levels in education are for September starts in a new job the later the more senior vacancies are advertised the more pressure on vacancies for other posts. Normally, half the annual volume of headteacher adverts appear in the first three months of the year. Will that pattern be replicated this year? Perhaps it is too early to tell. Will headteachers, and especially headteachers in primary schools faced with more problems than normal and lacking the level of administrative support that their secondary school colleagues enjoy just decide enough is enough and take early retirement? Will the pay freeze make matters worse, especially if pensions still rise in line with RPI?

TeachVac will be watching these trends for senior staff turnover, along with others in the labour market. Often in the past, a rising level of house prices has been bad for senior staff recruitment in high cost housing areas as staff can move to lower cost areas, but it is challenging for staff to move into those areas without incentives. The Stamp Duty relaxation has pushed up housing prices, at least in the short-term. Will these increases have an impact on leadership turnover?

The current age profile of the teaching profession should be favourable to the appointment of senior leaders but, as this blog has pointed out in the past, there may not be enough deputy heads in the primary sector with sufficient experience to want to move onto headship at the present time.

All these trends will need monitoring carefully as 2021 unfolds.

If you want the full report or data for specific areas, please contact enquiries@oxteachserv.com

Looking at leadership

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.


Fast-track to headship

Recently there has been some publicity in the Daily Telegraph and the TES about a scheme whereby new entrants into education will be prepared for headship after just two years of experience. Now, I am not clear whether this is a scheme to be aimed at either new graduates or career changers with significant amounts of management experience or a mixture of both.

However, after more than 30 years of studying leadership appointments in all types of schools, I wonder if this is an interesting new attempt to solve a problem governments often don’t fully understand. The Blair government attempted to tackle a shortage of leadership candidates by introducing a civil service style fast-track scheme for entry into the teaching profession: it lasted a few years and was then quietly dropped. One of the intentions behind Teach First was to attract potentially high flyers in the hope that some would stay in teaching and progress to headships. In recent years there has also been the ‘future leaders’ scheme. So, why another new initiative?

It may be that in looking ahead to an all academy world the government or at least its friends at the University of Buckingham have realised that if there are to be between 500-1,000 multi-academy trusts in the future then there won’t be enough leaders available within the present system capable of running these trusts effectively without seriously affecting the numbers of school leaders available to run individual schools, whether as heads or deputies. Filling such positions might argue for a scheme aimed at career changers rather than new young graduates. However, such a scheme might face recruitment issues, since only the highest paid positions in schools and MATs are in any way comparable with the sort of salary and benefits a successful graduate can earn in many other sectors. This will, possibly, be less of an issue outside London and the Home Counties where graduate salaries are often less different to those in the public sector, but there are often fewer graduates working in some of these areas to attract into teaching.

There are other issues that will face a scheme of this sort if it is to attempt to become a national scheme. How will vacancies be offered to candidates on the scheme? Will it be an extension of the National Teaching Service with, perhaps, certain types of school being required to place a request for a leader with the scheme based upon a school’s location, achievements and perhaps other factors? Will the two main faith groups the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, buy into such a scheme or will it only be for schools and MATs with no religious character and background? How will existing teachers view any narrowing of their possible promotion opportunities; will more decide to go and seek promotion abroad?

Of course, it could be a scheme that comes to the aid of MATs and schools that have tried to recruit a leader and failed to do so. Over more than half a century of detailed analysis of leadership recruitment, I have seen trends showing such schools facing recruitment challenges to have been overwhelmingly in the primary and special school sectors and frequently to have been schools that have had a religious background. There are schools in coastal and the more remote inland areas where small primary schools can face recruitment challenges, but in the secondary sector there is usually a further factor such as poor performance of a school behind recruitment difficulties. So, will the scheme be aimed at filling these types of vacancies where I would have thought more experience of teaching than a mere two years in a school might have been required?  Even the late Sir Rhodes Boyson was thirty before he achieved his first headship, and he is often held out to conservatives as an earlier achiever of leadership. Like many early achievers, he didn’t stay in headship but eventually entered parliament: here lies another challenge for such a scheme, not only selecting those that will be successful candidates, but also finding those that will stay in education leadership.

I am sure that the government has consulted its friends and advisers about how any such fast-track systems work in other people-focused sectors and how much support those on fast-track schemes need after appointment to a leadership post.

Perhaps talking to the churches and other faith groups about such a scheme might not be a bad idea for the DfE since many clergy acquire significant management responsibilities for churches and congregations very early in their careers. Might we learn from their experience? Of course, the whole scheme could be a mere speculative venture by a private university and a small number of individuals. Time will tell and no doubt the DfE will make it clear whether such a scheme has their backing.