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.

Trends in school leadership

Last week, the DfE published an interesting paper about the characteristics and trends in school leadership over the decade from 2010 to 2020. School leadership in England 2010 to 2020: characteristics and trends – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) This document will no doubt provide the basis for many higher education dissertations and academic research articles. The DfE data also helps to validate the annual Leadership Review produced by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk over the past few years that in itself has been the successor to the research into headship turnover that I commenced with Education Data surveys way back in the 1980s: genuinely a lifetime ago.

One of the issues that the DfE paper doesn’t draw out enough is the fate of older entrants into teaching. Now, I assume someone switching career in their late 30s isn’t normally interested in aiming for headship unless they have been persuaded to teach for that very reason. But, what of those in their late 20s? Can they expect the same promotion opportunities as new graduates? I expect that to be the case in the relatively flat hierarchies in the primary sector, but what of those talented career changers in large English and Mathematics departments? Can they achieve promotion fast enough to reach headships? Or is there still a barrier of age by which you must normally have reached first an assistant headship and then a deputy headship to be considered not ‘too old’ for a first headship in a secondary school?

The second leadership issue not adequately considered by the DfE paper is that of the staffing of leadership teams in faith schools, and especially Christian schools, in an increasingly secular society. Requiring adherence to the faith, not just in a notional manner but as a practicing adherent, can restrict the supply of candidates. How far, especially in the primary sector, where faith schools form a large proportion of the overall total of schools, does this issue affect leadership appointments. TeachVac annual review suggested that faith schools are more likely to need to re-advertise a headship than non-faith schools, although better management of teacher supply by some diocese has reduced the size of the problem from the levels seen more than a decade ago.

In terms of middle leadership, there seems little about difference between subjects in the study and any strain that a shortage of teachers in subject such as design and technology or business studies may place on middle leadership isn’t considered. Do teachers in these subjects reach middle leadership positions sooner that say, English or mathematics teachers?

Not surprisingly, in a survey that runs for 2010 to 2020, headteachers and other school leaders are more likely to be younger in 2020 than in 2010. This is partly due to the retirement of the ‘baby boomers’ in the years around 2010, and their replacement with new headteacher, usually in their early 40s. The trend to younger headteachers seems once again to be in evidence with record number so headteachers below the age of 40, although there are still relatively few headteachers appointed in their 20s. The ending of the compulsory retirement age has meant that in 2020 there were a record number of headteachers over the age of 65 still in post. Some may even be old enough to qualify for their bus pass.

This research is worth considering by policy makers, and it might be useful for the House of Commons Select Committee on Education to study the findings along with a discussion about whether or not the problems recruiting teachers has a longer-term effect on middle and senior leadership appointments?

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.

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

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.

Enough potential school leaders?

When I wrote a blog recently about the significant level of head teacher vacancies recorded by both TeachVac and the DfE vacancy site during August, I promised to look into the possible size of the pool of school leaders able to step up to fill headships in the primary sector. (Feeling the Strain 31st August 2020)

The new arrangement for viewing the DfE Statistics of the School Workforce in November 2019 made this more of a challenge than in the past. Indeed, I have still not fathomed whether it is possible to add in age groupings as a variable in the composite table searchers are allowed to create from the data? This is an important variable in answering the question about leadership pool of talent since deputy and assistant heads in some age groups may be expected to be lacking in experience in post sufficient to consider promotion to a headship.

Even better would be details about age and length of service in post, something provided way back in the 1990s, but not seemingly available now without a specific data request. Perhaps the teacher associations might like to consider this issue in their next evidence to the Pay Review Body the STRB).

Historically, most head teachers are appointed from the ranks of deputy head teachers, although, as some small primary schools don’t have a deputy, a number of assistant heads or even teachers with a TRL have been appointed to headships in the past. More recently, deputy heads in secondary schools have been moved across to primary schools in the same Academy Trust in order to fill vacancies for primary head teacher posts.

Looking at the data for the last four years from the School Workforce Census, the number of full-time deputy heads in the primary sector has declined from 11,563 in 2017/18, to 10,729 in 2019/20. The number of part-time deputy heads during the same period has, however, increased from 1,062 to 1,236. Nevertheless, the size of the pool has not grown. This is despite the number of schools remaining almost constant during the same period, the total altering only from 17,191 to 17,178.

Assuming some 2,000 primary head teacher vacancies each year, with 25% being taken by existing head teacher changing schools, this would create a demand for 1,500 first time head teachers each year. Assuming ten per cent of the 12,000 deputy heads are too new in post to consider promotion and a further 10% are too old to be still interested in headship, the remaining 10,000 or so leaves a generous margin of possible applicants.

However, other considerations then come into play; type of school – infant, junior or primary; organisation – maintained or academy; religious affiliation or none – Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Greek Orthodox; Sikh, Muslim; size of school – one form entry to four form entry or larger?

All these variables can affect the size of the possible pool of interested applicants. A further wrinkle is the time of year a vacancy is advertised. Historically, 50% of vacancies appear in the January to March period and are the easiest to fill as that is when the majority of applicants are job hunting. TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has detailed information on how schools advertising for a head teacher fare, and how many have to re-advertise. Each year, a report is published in January.

We shall be watching the current trends with interest.

Feeling the strain?

After nearly 40 years of following trends in school leadership recruitment, I have rarely had to worry about what was happening during August. Indeed, for many years I used to spend the month compiling a detailed report on the labour market for senior staff during the previous school year for the NAHT.

However, this year, perhaps because of covid-19, there are signs that activity in the market for senior leaders has been a bit different to normal. Using data from TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk admittedly collected this morning, (although I don’t expect many schools in England to add new vacancies on a bank holiday), and not after the end of the month, there seems to have been an increase in advertised vacancies for both primary and secondary headships by schools in England this August.

In the primary sector, vacancies for headteacher posts recorded during August 2020 were 84, up from 57, in 2019, and 54, in 2018. Likewise, in the secondary sector, recorded headship vacancies were 16 in 2020, compared with just six in 2019, and 10 in 2018. Deputy Head vacancies increased, from 10 to 32, between last August and this year in the primary sector, and from just two last year to five vacancies this year in the secondary sector. There were eight assistant head vacancies in the primary sector this August, compared with just three recorded in August 2019.

Promoted posts are rarely seen in vacancies for the primary sector, and none were recorded this August. In the secondary sector, there were 38 this August, compared with 36 in 2019: little change.

For completeness, it is worth noting that classroom teacher vacancies also rose in the primary sector from 96 recorded in August 2019, to 129 recorded in 2020. However, the downward trend in the secondary sector job market continued, with just 223 recorded vacancies for classroom teachers this August, compared with 344 in August 2019.

What might account for this upward trend in headship vacancies? Well, TeachVac might be better at collecting vacancies form the smaller primary Multi Academy Trusts that last year. That might account for some of the difference. However, might some primary heads be feeling the strain of running a school during the exceptional period we have experienced since March 2020, and the start of the pandemic?

If this is the case, then the actions of government over the summer bode ill for the future. Could we see a growth in heads tendering their resignations for January or will they be prepared to carry on despite the requirements imposed upon them by government?

Vacancies advertised during September 2019 for headships were, 102 in the primary sector, and 44 in the secondary sector. These totals provide a benchmark by which to judge the number of vacancies in 2020.

It is also worth considering, at least in the primary sector, what the pool of potential new heads is like, and I may come back to that issue in another post. The key number is of deputy heads with perhaps at least five years of experience and, perhaps, under the age of fifty five.