Headship: does school type matter when recruiting?

How much does the type of school matter when trying to recruit a new headteacher? More many years than I can count, indeed almost since I started researching the labour market for school leaders in England, way back in the1980s, it has seemed that data has always pointed to certain schools finding recruitment a challenge.

So, with a bit of spare time, I thought I would look at the experiences in one large shire county (not Oxfordshire) in the period between January 2021 and the end of July 2022.

Vacancies for headteachers in state-funded primary schools – one shire county Jan 21-July22

% 2+52%44%47%61%0%
Source TeachVac

Interestingly, although Infant schools appear to fare better than other schools in terms of recruiting after a single advertisement, three of the ten schools in the table placed their first advertisement during either June or July of 2022. Discounting those schools produces a 2+ percentage for infant schools of 61% and not 52%. This is the same as for Church of England Primary Schools.

However, although most infant and junior schools in this locality are Maintained schools, there are some Church of England Infant and junior schools, and they seem more likely than the maintained schools to have to re-advertise.

Indeed, Church of England schools account for all of the primary schools with more than two rounds of advertisements for a headteacher. These include one school with the original vacancy plus six rounds of re-advertisements and another school with the original advertisement plus nine further rounds of advertisements between May 2021 and June 2022.

In any normal year, about half of headteacher vacancies appear between January and March. Vacancies advertised later in the year tend to be harder to fill unless there is local interest in taking on the school. Unless a primary school has access to subscription advertising for its vacancies, this can become an expensive business, especially for a small primary school. MATs may be able to cover these costs, but with local authorities not able to top-slice school budgets in the same way, this can be an expensive problem for governing bodies, especially if headteachers only stay in post for a few years in such schools.

There is much less of an issue in filling vacancies for headteachers of secondary and all-through schools, although some of the same caveats about timing remain. Also, for the secondary sector, the type of school and its Free School Meals ranking outside of recessionary times may affect the degree of interest. These issues are discussed further in TeachVac’s annual review of the leadership labour market in England.

So, a community primary school advertising in January each year should have little difficulty finding a new headteacher. The governing body of a Church of England school whose headteacher needs replacing in June will probably find themselves facing a challenge in their search for a replacement.

The revolving door of school leadership

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has published some interesting research on the amount of time newly appointed senior leaders stay in post as part of their contribution to the debate about the pay and conditions for teachers. Apparently, more are leaving within the first five years after appointment. New data reveals sharp increase in number of school leaders leaving the profession within 5 years (naht.org.uk)

After 40 years of studying leadership trends this is an interesting set of data. The key results are shown in the table below.

Percentage of postholders that are new to post that have left within 5 years of appointment
Head teachersDeputy headsAssistant headsMiddle leaders
Primary phase201122%25%26%43%
Secondary phase201135%32%37%43%
Source: NAHT

The first thing to notice is that the data are expressed in terms of percentages. Taking just headteachers, as an example, in a typical year TeachVac records around 1,500 advertisements for primary headteachers, and 350-400 for secondary headteachers.

Using those numbers, the change would be from 330 to 345 departing in the primary sector between 20111 and those appointed in 2015, and in the secondary sector, assuming 400 vacancies each year – the upper end of the range- the change would be an increase of eight headteachers.

Since the press release didn’t calibrate the size of the market in each year, it isn’t clear whether more opportunities in the five-year period would have provided more leaders with a chance to move early in their careers. Certainly, the period from 2019 onwards has seen the start of the bulge in secondary pupil numbers and the creation of some new schools requiring new leaders. The period also witnessed the development and consolidation of Multi-Academy Trusts central staffing and some of those posts may well have been taken by school leaders in post for less than five years.

The press release also doesn’t make clear whether departures were tracked to see where the school leader went? If young leaders are quitting the profession, then that’s a serious situation, especially in the primary phase where there are fewer deputy headteachers and headteachers and any departures at that stage would be challenging to the sector.

As primary teaching, even at the more senior ranks, is now largely populated by women, the age profile of those leaving may also be worth exploring. Are some taking a career break for caring roles, and do we need a ‘keep in touch’ scheme for these leavers? Are there issues with certain types of school and does the data say anything to the levelling up agenda that might interest the STRB?

School leadership, whether at middle leadership or senior leadership levels is a challenging task and these percentages must be viewed with concern, but there is much more to discover from these percentages than might appear from the headline. However, that’s the aim of a good headline; to make one read the text that follows.

TeachVac welcomes new tes owners

This is an interesting way to start 2022. Just three years since the tes last changed hands, its ownership looks to be on the move again. This would make the third set of owners of the tes since TeachVac was set up in 2013 to challenge the high cost of teacher recruitment in a changing world, where technology should have been driving down costs and thus reducing prices to schools. www.teachvac.co.uk According to the press release 86c854e3-7a1d-4402-9f20-32868488d2c6 (gcs-web.com) dated the 7th December the new owners should be the current management team at the tes and ONEX, a Canadian Venture Capital Group. My best wishes to them.

When the Providence Group bought the tes in 2018, I expressed surprise at the purchase, so I am not now surprised that after slimming down the business by: exiting the supply teacher market; ending coverage of the further education sector; shifting its office functions out of London and axing the print edition among other changes, Providence finally put the business up for sale.

Based on the cost structure of TeachVac, there is a profitable company lurking inside the tes, but not while it is saddled with a large slug of overhanging debt that needs to be serviced. The terms of the expected change of ownership are not revealed in the press release, but too much debt will cripple the success of the new venture. Still, it is good to see the management team taking a share of the risk, and bringing at least a part of the ownership back into the UK from North America.

Today’s Sunday Telegraph business section has an article by Matt Oliver discussing the problems the tes faces when government tries to do the same job through its own free web site for vacancies. This blog discussed such an issue in relation to both TeachVac and the TES in April 2019 DfE backs free vacancy sites | John Howson (wordpress.com) I am sorry that Matt Oliver didn’t either mention TeachVac or try to speak with me about the way the market operates, as other journalists have done on a regular basis.

Perhaps either the Education Select Committee or the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster will use Matt Oliver’s article as a reason to mount an inquiry into the teacher recruitment market. After all, the later, using National Audit Office data, called for the DfE to reduce the cost of teacher recruitment: the very reason that TeachVac was established and has flourished. Does Nationalisation always work? | John Howson (wordpress.com)

This blog has always asserted that schools have been paying too much for recruitment advertising and has been prepared to back that judgement with the development of the successful TeachVac job board. The apparent lack of interest on the part of professional associations and others connected with education to address the means of removing unnecessary expenditure from schools by slashing recruitment advertising costs has been an enduring disappointment to me. Perhaps 2022 with be the year that all this changes?

Boom in Teaching Vacancies this December

Are schools starting the recruitment process for teachers required for September 2022 early this school year? Data from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk would certainly seem to suggest that something is happening that is different to usual.

A look at recorded vacancies for December 2021, up to yesterday, the 17th, compared with the same period in 2019 – the last year before the covid outbreak distorted the labour market for teachers – does suggest some schools might be bringing forward their recruitment process, possibly in case of any lockdown in the New Year? Talk in social media about the leading paid for recruitment platform putting up subscription rates, if correct, might also have had some influence on behaviour.

December recorded vacancies by TeachVac
Subject20192021Percentage +/- (The nearest whole %)
Design & Technology8413156%
Source: TeachVac

Interestingly, the two big departments in secondary schools of English and Mathematics have not followed the general pattern of increases of, on average, about a third. Both of these subjects have recorded falls when compared with December 2019. Might it be that with a greater proportion of trainees on school-based courses, schools feel that they can recruit for the trainee pool without the need to advertise in the open market? Such an approach may say money, but not on a fixed cost subscription package.

The increase in primary vacancies, against a scenario where the sector is facing falling pupil numbers at the entry age group in many parts of the country merits further investigation. However, it is no surprise to see both business studies and design and technology so close to the top of the table. The recent DfE ITT Census contained grim news for schools wanting to recruit teachers in these subjects for September 2022. Wise schools will start recruiting as soon as possible. No doubt any surplus teachers in these subjects can be hired out to other schools within a MAT for a fee.

The growth in posts on the Leadership Scales is interesting. Does it herald the start of a boom in such vacancies, as the pressures of the last two years finally take their toll on headteachers who have told their governing bodies that they will be leaving in the summer?

I will be starting compiling the TeachVac Annual Reviews for the whole labour market and for Leadership posts during 2021 next week, with a view to publication early in 2022.

TeachVac continues to break records in recruiting new applicants; in matches made and in hits on the web site. TeachVac should record some 64,000 vacancies for teachers in 2021; far more than the DfE site. www.teachvac.co.uk

Schools are now signing up to the TeachVac 2022 package that costs £100 to register and £1 per match against a school’s vacancies with a ceiling of £1,000 plus VAT including the registration package, after which all further matches in 2022 are free. Full details of how to registration interest can be found at TeachVac Reports – The National Vacancy Service for Teachers and Schools and registration comes with a free report.

Are you overpaying to advertise your teaching posts?

New service for schools from TeachVac

Does your school pay an annual subscription to post your teaching vacancies, but then have to pay extra for leadership posts?

Does your supplier tell you how many matches there were for each vacancy you advertised?

Do you know the size of the market in your area, as well as the likely annual demand for teachers?

TeachVac can answer your questions

After seven years of successful matching and designing a system specifically for schools in England, TeachVac is now asking schools to pre-register for free for its new enhanced service and in return receive a report on the labour market for teachers. Pre-registration now costs nothing, but allows for faster delivery of matches to pre-registered schools. When live in the New year, here’s how the new system will work.

Register your school now for just £100 plus VAT and receive 200 free matches. That means the first 200 matches made with your vacancies will be free on all leadership, promoted posts and classroom teacher vacancies advertised in 2022.

Matches are then £1 each up to a maximum of £1,000 per school each year. All further matches are free for the rest of that year.

You fee will make our teacher pool even larger than at present. We aim for the largest pool of teachers that are job hunting to match with your vacancies at the lowest price to schools. TeachVac can do this with its own sophisticated technology written with schools in mind.

TeachVac can save you money

No matches: no cost. No subscription to pay after the registration fee of £100 plus VAT and that is covered by your first 200 matches.

Additionally, we tell you information about the likely pool of teachers and how fast it is being depleted as the recruitment round unfolds between January and September.

TeachVac has been matching teachers to jobs for seven years and its low-cost British designed technology has made more than 1.5 million matches in 2021 for schools across the country.

Sign up today at: https://teachvac.co.uk/school_doc.php

And receive our latest report on the Labour Market for teachers. Schools that don’t register will no longer be matched with our increasing pool of candidates. TeachVac listed 60,000+ vacancies in 2021 and made more than 1.5 million matches. https://teachvac.co.uk/school_doc.php

History and headship

Sometimes when searching the web for something another link is thrown up. Today, I rediscovered this piece I wrote for the Education Select Committee way back in 1998, nearly a quarter of a century ago.

I have only included just the first part here, but the whole piece can be read at House of Commons – Education and Employment – Report (parliament.uk) and reveals how useful a good archive policy is for future historians. Worth noting that even in 1998 I was already using the term Chair not Chairman.

Memorandum from Mr John Howson, Education Data Surveys Ltd



  1. The intention of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Employment to consider the role of headteachers is welcomed.

The impact of headteachers on their schools

  2. There is no doubting the important role that a headteacher plays in the life of a school. As the leading professional, the headteacher has a strategic role to play in the success of the school. Just as successful companies, hospitals, regiments and governments function more effectively with strong leadership, so the same is true of schools.

  2.1 Academic studies both here and elsewhere suggest that successful leadership is a combination of situational and personal leadership skills. That is matching the abilities of the individual to the task in hand. One issue with heads is that, as they are generally appointed for an indefinite period, a change in the situation a school faces may require a change in the skill mix needed. This may result in the current head of the school under performing. This problem can also be observed in the corporate sector. Fixed term renewable contracts would offer a solution to this problem but would come with a price tag attached. The loss of tenure would require additional rewards for the additional risks to be accepted.

  2.2 In the early work of the National Education Assessment Centre, a joint venture between Oxford Brookes University and the Secondary Heads Association, it became clear that successful heads need a clear set of educational values. The values should underpin their work and heads must also recognise how to put their values in to practice. For instance, timetabling is not a mechanical “value free” activity. The classes a newly qualified teacher is asked to teach may determine how long they stay in the profession.

The nature of the head’s task

  3.1 There is a popular belief that any competent manager could run a school just as they could any other business. This view muddles up the requirement for professional knowledge with the need for operational support and strategic direction. It is particularly important to understand this issues as the nature of the head’s role has changed during the past decade. It has been transformed from that of just a leading professional to a multi-functional role encompassing the management of education service delivery within a highly fragmented marketplace.

  3.2 Whilst schools are about learning it is right that they should be led by a chief executive with an understanding of the practice of education and a vision to promote the development of the school. It is also right that the head should be expected to justify the direction the school is taking and account for its improvement to non-educationalists. The governing body and particularly its chair serve as the first point in the chain of accountability. In that sense the often discussed comparison between the head as a managing director and the chair of governors as a non-executive Chair of the Board has some merit as an exemplar. In the most recent edition of “Management Today”, the journal of the British Institute of Management, an editorial headed “Yes, the public sector does manage” suggests that “it was time conventional businesses looked again at the abilities of those managers whose skills have been forged in the glare of the public sector”.

  3.3 There are, however, unfortunate side effects of carrying any industrial metaphor too far. Western management theory for too long was based upon scientific principles that resulted in hierarchical structures. These may have been appropriate for a factory environment but were not suitable to professional organisations where rigid structures make team working difficult. The introduction of newer management theories during the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in a fresh look at organisational theory. Teamwork is acceptable with the leading professional being seen as “primus inter pares” with their colleagues rather than at the top of a pyramid. The term “Senior Management team” is now common in the educational leadership literature and normal in adverts for senior staff posts. This approach is not without its risks since it does not remove the need for a leadership function; it just changes the manner in which it operates.

  3.4 The STRB workload survey in 1996 reported on the extent to which heads are able to teach. Conventional wisdom is that the larger the school the less a head will be able to teach. Overall the Study (Table A2) showed primary school headteachers either teaching or undertaking associated tasks such as marking and lesson preparation for an average of 10.6 hours a week. Secondary heads spent on average 6.8 hours a week on such tasks. As a percentage of their working weeks this represented 18.9 per cent of the primary school head’s weeks and 11.1 per cent of the secondary head’s week. However, both heads had longer working weeks than did most other teachers. Primary heads worked on average 55.7 hours a week and secondary heads 61.7 hours. These totals compared with primary classroom teachers who worked 50.8 hours and secondary classroom teachers who worked 48.8 hours. When compared with a similar 1994 study also conducted by the STRB both primary and secondary heads seemed to be working longer hours; up from 55.4 to 55.7 for primary heads and up from 61.1 to 61.7 for secondary heads.

  3.5 The nature of the task of headship must be set against the context that schools operate in. For much of the past thirty years schools have been faced with a period of constant change. During most of the past decade a declining resource base has accompanied this change. DfEE statistics show the average unit of funding per full-time secondary pupil fell from £2,400 in 1990-91 to £2,290 in 1995-96 based on adjusted figures (DfEE Education and Training Statistics for the UK 1997—Table 1.3). In the same period funding per full-time primary pupil rose slightly from £1,590 to £1,690.

Will you find a teaching post in 2021?

How easy will trainees find job hunting in 2021? The following predictions are based upon an analysis of vacancies for teaching posts recorded by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk over the past four years. The raw vacancy data is then linked to the ITT census of trainee numbers produced by the DfE and based upon returns from providers.

As noted in another post on this blog, there are fewer trainees on classroom-based courses than a few years ago. This pushes up demand for trainees and returners to fill posts these trainees would have occupied. Assuming similar completion rates for trainees as in the past, and that with rising rolls in the secondary sector, if total vacancies are no worse than in 2020, and hopefully closer to the 2019 total it is possible to estimate the shape of the labour market in different subjects during 2021. However, much will depend upon how many teachers retire or leave the classroom for other jobs. If teacher stay put in larger numbers than usual, vacancies will be lower than in the past.

So, before I list some my predictions it is worth reminding those looking for teaching posts to register with the platform that provides the best opportunity for them to be pointed towards possible vacancies. I am, of course biased in favour of TeachVac, but there is the DfE site that also contains non-teaching posts, and the TES, as well as local authority job boards. Candidates might want to register with agencies and let them take the strain, but it is worth asking about their success in the geographical area where you are likely to be looking for a job.

So what might the picture for 2021 look like? Physics, design and technology and business studies teachers should still have little problem find a teaching post either during 2021 or for January 2022.

On the other hand, history and PE teachers will continue to find that there are more candidates than there are vacancies across much of England. The ability to offer a second subject might be worth thinking about in any application.  Teachers of geography will also likely to find job hunting challenging later in the year.

This year, teachers of art may struggle to find teaching posts, especially as the year progresses, as there are considerably more trainees than in recent years. Teachers of RE and biology may also face similar challenges in job hunting as 2021 progresses towards the start of the new school term in September.

The outlook for teachers of sciences, other than physics, is likely to be similar to the situation in 2020, with teachers of biology unable to offer other sciences at most risk of finding a teaching post challenging as the progresses.

Mathematics and IT/Computing teachers should find plenty of choice of jobs early in the year, but possibly not as much choice as in recent years.

It is difficult to predict the market for teachers of languages other than English in Britain’s new post-EU membership world. At present, it looks as if across England there is a good balance between supply and demand, but there may be regional shortages if vacancy levels increase. On the other hand, if vacancies decline, there could be a surplus of teachers of some languages, notably Spanish.

Teachers of music are likely to find enough vacancies for trainees unless there is an inflow of ‘returners’ from outside of the profession as a result of changes in the wider labour market for those with music qualifications and a teaching background.

Each month TeachVac updates information about overall vacancies in the monthly newsletter. Details can be found at: https://www.teachvac.co.uk/our_services.php

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

Pay Freeze: more churn?

As expected, the main teacher associations acted with condemnation when faced with the Secretary of State’s remit letter to the STRB, the Pay and conditions of Service Review Body for the teaching profession.  In a joint statement from ACSL NAHT and NEU they said that;

The narrow remit issued to the STRB excludes the crucial and central issue of teacher and school leader pay, reflecting the Government’s unacceptable pay freeze policy.  Teachers and school leaders are key workers who have already seen their pay cut significantly since 2010.  With inflation expected to increase in 2021, they know that they face another significant real terms pay cut. 

How might their members react in 2021? We can expect a range of reactions. Some will say, there is no point in staying with no pay rise in sight – after all will the freeze really be just for one year? Head teachers at the top of their pay band, and having endured the prospect of two disrupted school years might well throw in the towel and take their pension as that presumably won’t be frozen in the same way; at least at present. We will look at that prospect and its consequences in more detail in a later blog.

Some teachers will seek promotion to secure a pay rise, and others a more appealing post either in a different school or in the private sector where there are no requirements for a pay freeze for teachers. Yet others may look overseas or to the tutoring market that will grow to support the increase in home schooling, especially if the government looks to regulation to ensure a minimum standard of education for all children regardless of how parents arrange to provide it. All these factors could increase ‘churn’.

With a profession dominated by women, at least at the level of the classroom teacher, how they and often also their partners view job security and new opportunities will also affect the rate of ‘churn’ if there is job movement around the country.

I actually think, at least in the first few months of 2021, there will be caution, and a desire to stay put and see what happens. With a labour market in teaching heavily skewed towards the first five months of the year, we could see fewer vacancies than normal in the early months of 2021. This will impact especially severely on two group of teachers: new entrants and would-be returners to the profession.

I well recall a Radio 5 Live interview in 2011, when callers were blaming each groups for taking jobs from the other. In reality, both groups were finding it more of a challenge to secure a teaching post, especially in some parts of England.

So, how hard will it be? We don’t know yet, so this is speculation based upon past trends, but I think some teachers will really struggle to secure a post in 2021.

Now might well be the time to revive ideas of a single application form for teaching, at least for personal details. This would leave just the free text statement to be written specifically for each vacancy being sought. The DfE should consider whether sponsoring that idea from those examples currently in development and on offer might be a better use of funds than continuing with their vacancy site that one person described to me in unflattering terms earlier this week.

In the next post, I will describe a new service from TeachVac to help teachers and schools assess the market and where vacancies might be found in 2021.  

Head Teacher Vacancies increase this autumn

More head teachers are quitting this autumn. TeachVac, the national free vacancy service for the education market in England reported a 20% increase in advertised vacancies for primary head teachers in the three month from September to end of November 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

The figures recorded by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk were:

2019       276

2020       329

There was no such corresponding increase in secondary school headship vacancies. However, that might be down to the greater number of academies in the secondary sector, and a different attitude to filling in-year vacancies by such Trusts..

This increase comes during what is normally a quiet period for recruitment at the start of a school-year.’

The concern must be that this is an early warning sign of a large outflow of head teachers at the end of the summer term next year. Are there deputies willing to step up to the top job? The pressure of head teachers during the past year has been immense, with some having had little or no time away from school since the start of the pandemic.

Over the year to the end of November TeachVac recorded 1,383 vacancies for primary head teachers compared with 1,315 during the same period in 2019. So far, in2020, there have been 355 recorded vacancies secondary school head teachers, compared with 342 in the period between January and the end of November 2019.

Recorded vacancies for assistant head teachers and deputy head teachers have fallen so far in 2020 when compared with 2019. In the secondary sector, there has been a small increase in vacancies at both grades during 2020.

The three months between January and the end of March normally constitutes the main recruiting season for new leadership appointments. Approximately half of all such vacancies are advertised during these three months.