One of the more interesting aspects of the labour market in education at this time is the number of head teacher vacancies on offer. A quick search on the DfE’s web site revealed that 15% of the 168 vacancies listed today were for head teachers. To verify that number, it is necessary to remove all non-teaching posts – of which there are still quite a few- and separate out the genuine head teacher vacancies from other leadership posts that include not only other senior leadership posts, at deputy and assistant head teacher level, but also head of department vacancies.
This number of head teacher vacancies in late July is not exceptional, but normally one would have expected schools to have made arrangements for leadership during the next school-year that all too soon will be upon us.
However, recognising the huge strain that has been placed upon head teachers since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, and the universal lockdown of society, it would not be surprising if some head teachers were now starting to think of their future.
It is essential that head teachers, and indeed all staff in schools, can take a genuine break over the next six to seven weeks. The long autumn term is always a strain for everyone, even after a normal summer break. To start September not fully refreshed is to risk an education system that will just not function properly.
My concern about staffing in the autumn, following the collapse in vacancies since March, has led me to call for a scheme to provide support for newly qualified teachers unable to secure a teaching job. These new teachers are a resource we cannot afford to squander.
We have seen them invest in their training through the student loan programme. They entered into training as teachers in good faith. In some case making the decision to train as a teacher in the autumn of 2018, when applications opened. Dumping these individuals on the growing pile of the unemployed, while the interest payments on their student loans continues to mount up, is not fair.
As I have said in the past, we don’t treat trainee members of the armed forces or many other public services, including new recruits to the civil service, in this way.
If we lose even 20% of this year’s class of new teachers from the profession that will have a profound effect on middle and senior leadership recruitment in the years to come.
Should we see a surge in departures of head teachers, either in the autumn or more likely next January, then we do need to have the candidates in the system to step up and fill the roles that underpin the supply of new head teachers.
We might also start by looking at how many Executive Head Teachers there are overseeing MATs, and whether there is room for rationalisation, and some cost saving as a result.
This has been a challenging year for school leaders, and those responsible for policy must ensure that one of the consequences of covid-19 is not a breakdown in the leadership of any of our schools.