Headship Concerns

Now that we are into April, it is possible to look in more detail about the progress of headship appointments during the first quarter of the year. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has identified just over 800 schools seeking a new head teachers during the first three months of 2017. The majority are schools in the primary sector. Indeed, of the 52 secondary schools identified as seeking a new head teacher, only five have so far been recorded as re-advertising; a percentage rate of 10% for re-advertisements. This suggests little real difficult for most secondary schools that are seeking a new head teacher. Or, maybe, that some MATs are managing this process internally rather than resorting to outside advertising.

The position in the primary sector is much less satisfactory. Of the 336 schools that were tracked as advertising in January by TeachVac, 25% had re-advertised by the end of March. Of these schools re-advertising, 16 have already placed 2 further rounds of advertisements after their initial January advertisement.  The overall position for the 239 schools recorded as advertising in February is little better, with 21% have re-advertised by the end of March.

There are significant regional differences, as well as differences between faith schools and other schools, with rural schools also being much more likely to have re-advertised as are separate infant and junior and first schools. Indeed, as in the past, any factor that makes a school stand out as different from the majority of its peers seems to make finding a new head teacher more of a challenge. This is something that governors need to be aware of when constructing their advertisements and setting out a recruitment timetable.

Interestingly, Hampshire seems to be faring less well than many other parts of the country, with a significant re-advertisement rate for schools originally advertising in January:  a trend that seems to have continued into February. This is in stark contrast to some of the more northern parts of England where there are much lower rates of re-advertisement, even for schools of a similar background.

With the lack of any mandatory qualification for headship, it is always difficult to be certain what the size of the potential pool of new school leaders is in any given year. This lack of knowledge and pre-planning is a real handicap in helping ensure schools with be able to recruit the next generation of school leaders.

Whether the new funding formula has affected where applicants will apply is too soon to say, but other factors such as house prices and the availability of work for a partner have always been an issue for some schools when seeking a new head teacher. In that respect, is interesting to see that schools across most of London are not yet re-advertising headships in any significant numbers. However, TeachVac will be watching to see this is really the case of it is rather that re-advertisements are slower to appear than in some other parts of the country.

For anyone seeking more details, do make contact with TeachVac.



Enough primary leaders?

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.


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.




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.


School spends £60,000 on recruitment advertising

Teacher recruitment received a mention in the House of Commons yesterday. During Education Questions two Labour MPs asked the Minister, Mr Gibb, about whether was a problem. Chris Leslie from Nottingham cited a school that had spent over £60,000 just on advertising costs. The Minister replied that it wasn’t necessary to spend that kind of money as there are many free recruitment sites. He didn’t list any and apart from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk it isn’t clear what recruitment sites are free to both schools and teachers, apart, perhaps, from some local authority, diocese or academy trust sites.

As I received an email over the weekend from a governor of a primary school that had spent £8,000 on advertising for a headteacher, the sums are mounting up. Our philosophy at TeachVac is simple, cash should be spent on teaching not on recruiting teachers. The more schools, teachers and trainees that use TeachVac, the more functions we can provide alongside our present advice to schools about the size of the current pool of trainees looking for secondary teaching posts.

Expanding the information about recruitment may be vital to schools as the Future leaders Trust have brought out a Report today called ‘Heads Up’ http://www.future-leaders.org.uk/insights-blog/heads-up-challenges-headteacher-recruitment/ about the challenges of recruiting new headteachers. I was privileged to be asked to contribute to the report, and was delighted to do so, since I spent more than a quarter of a century tracking headteacher vacancies.

Being a head can be a great job but, like any leadership position, it has its challenges and it behoves those responsible for schools to recognise that fact and ensure that enough people want to take on the challenge. With more schools and increased numbers of executive heads there will be a demand for even more school leaders. In our increasingly nationalised school system I hope that someone somewhere is ensuring a sufficient supply of new candidates across the country. I commend the work that the Future Leaders Trust is doing to help with finding the next generation of school leaders.

My guess is that we now need between 2,000-2,500 new head teachers each year: that’s a big ask, especially in the primary sector. The DfE and National College have a good tradition of looking backward at what has happened; they now need to be able to project forward to anticipate problems before they arise. It is all very well the Minister saying the DfE isn’t burying its head in the sand and citing overall teacher numbers, but he didn’t, presumably because he couldn’t, state that there was no problem staffing certain subjects or in some parts of the country.

Next week will see the publication of the first figures for recruitment into teacher preparation course for 2016. As this is the third year of the current admissions system we will have a good idea of how recruitment is going this year, especially in the subjects where recruitment controls have not yet been activated. I am hoping for an improvement over last year and the year before partly because of increased marketing activity, but the recent Income Data Services report on pay might put off some would-be teachers with large loans to repay.

Off with the head

I assume the call for parents to be able to remove heads issued by the New Schools Network in its evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into Regional School Commissioners is either a bit of headline grabbing or an attempt to legislate for what many active parents already do.

Indeed, when schools were responsible to local authorities there were parent and local authority governors that could and did act as a conduit for dissatisfaction among the parent and staff bodies if a school was under-performing. What the New Teacher Network seems to fail to understand, if I read the press reports correctly, is that it is the management of the school and not necessarily the head that may need to be changed when a school is failing. That’s why governments sack governing bodies in failing schools. Did they also consider the issue highlighted in the Bill presently before parliament of what to do with a ‘coasting’ academy or free school? The assumption that only the remaining community or voluntary schools ‘coast’, and academies and free school don’t, seems either naïve or politically motivated.

Now I have no objection to a single system of schools. I would prefer them to have local democratic oversight, but frankly, in a time of austerity, it is a waste of money to create two systems in parallel.

By the way, middle class parents that are anxious about whether their children’s schools are under-performing do take action and have done so for years. I know of two schools in the past year where groups of parents have put pressure on the governors and the head because they were worried about standards falling.

However, they, along with the New Schools Network, do have to consider that the post of head teacher must be attractive enough to encourage the next generation of teachers to want to take on the role. Indeed, the New Schools Network might do well to consider whether offering support to prevent problems becoming more serious is usually better than changing the leadership team. The decline in advisory services to schools into a traded option bought by schools may fit the market agenda but it makes early intervention before problems increase beyond the point of no return more challenging. Would a free school advisory board agree to support a head that indicated the need to spend money on staff development over a project that they favoured?

The current risk is that many schools will find improving performance more challenging if the recruitment and retention of teachers becomes yet more of a challenge into 2016.

There is also the pressure to prevent schools seeming to under-perform by parents paying for private tuition. I heard of one, I hope extreme case, where the parents of a pupil entering the sixth form with an A at GCSE were told to look for a private tutor by other parents in order for the child to be able to keep up with the A level pace. This was because, the lessons were pitched on the basis that parents would be doing so and anyone that didn’t would find themselves outpaced. Now, I hope that is a rare example, but it does demonstrate what a parent driven system can create. Is that the aim of the New Schools Network?