Local authorities have a role to play in education

For several decades, successive Labour and tory governments lambasted local authorities for spending too much on central office costs and depriving schools of cash. There were even those in Mr Gove’s time in office that may have believed that all money not handed to schools was money wasted. Now I read in a new report from Ofsted on an Oxfordshire secondary school that:

‘Directors of the multi-academy company have failed to ensure that leaders had enough capacity during and since the subsequent restructuring to bring about necessary improvements at the school.’

Presumably they felt more money should have been spent on additional leadership capacity at the MAT because Ofsted went on to say

The principal of the school is now accountable for six primary schools in the MAT. In the autumn term, she provided interim leadership for one of the schools, following the departure of its headteacher, reducing leadership capacity at the secondary school further. Poor strategic leadership by the MAT has contributed to the decline in the overall effectiveness of the school.

This faces head-on the issue I have raised in this blog before. Can we afford these small MATs with expensive overheads when funding for schools is under pressure and salaries are being held down below inflation for all except those that it is still open to negotiate their own salary increases should they wish to.

Reading the Ofsted report on this secondary school in the MAT is like reading a review of the worst of the former inadequate local authorities. In this case, the worst of the diocesan behaviour also seems to have been present, since it the MAT is entirely comprised of church schools.

It must now be clear that MATs are no longer the guarantee of success that those who dreamed them up believed they would be. They can be costly drains on school resources with insufficient economies of scale and no democratic accountability.

Why did the parents at this school have to wait for Ofsted. In the past they could have lobbied their local councillor and no doubt kicked the councillor out if nothing had happened. I know that there were, and probably still are, ‘rotten boroughs’ where councillors are always certain of election if they belong to the right Party, but most in my experience do a good job for their residents even in those circumstances.

Can we afford to spend millions of pounds on ineffective MATs and some of the other new ideas of the past decade when funding for schools is under pressure? Readers will know of TeachVac, now probably offering more teacher vacancies on one site than any other job board or website, and for free. The success of TeachVac demonstrates what can be achieved in driving down costs to effectively fund teaching and learning. Diseconomies of scale have the opposite effect.

If local authorities retain the oversight of children’s safety, they should also retain the oversight of their education by the State within their local area and the next government should finally recognise that point. At present the system doesn’t work and, as this Ofsted report demonstrated, there are risks that it can even be harmful to children. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

A shortage of leaders?

Is there a shortage of school leaders that will become even worse over the next few years? This was the gloomy message from the report issued on Friday jointly by Teach First, Teaching Leaders and the Future Leaders Trust. https://www.teachfirst.org.uk/sites/default/files/The%20School%20Leadership%20Challenge%202022.pdf

As someone that has spent more than thirty years looking at leadership turnover, I have read the report, whose analytical support was provided by McKinsey, with interest. The report calls for a range of different interventions under four main headings:

  1. Develop a new generation of school leaders
  2. Expand the pool of candidates for executive roles
  3. Drive system change to support leaders more effectively and provide clear career pathways
  4. Build the brand of school leadership

These required interventions reflect the lack of government action ever since the Labour government abolished the mandatory NPQH qualification for headship and the coalition created many new leadership posts with the development of MATs and executive headships. The latter issue has been dealt with by this blog in previous posts, most notably in July this year with the post headed ‘Can we afford 2,000 MATs?

The figures in Friday’s report, if accurate, are challenging with, it is suggested, a possible shortfall of more than 20,000 leaders in the coming decade. Now that may be the case, but it depends upon all the factors identified by the compilers of the report coming true. As noted, the greatest risk is the uncontrolled expansion of MATs creating a significant number of new posts.

While in the school sector, the growth in pupil numbers may lead to a development of more assistant head roles to recreate those abolished when roles were falling the likelihood of that happening is probably going to be governed by the degree of finance available to schools; a point largely ignored by the writers of the report. The report also misses the extent to which assistant head numbers have been inflated by what are essentially difficult to fill middle leadership posts such as head of mathematics and science departments being paid as assistant headship in order to be able to recruit to those positions.

Where I am with the writers of the report is in the need for creating not so much clear career pathways, they already exist, but in helping young teachers and especially returners develop the necessary skills to be appointed to a leadership post. With teaching increasingly a profession for women in both primary and secondary schools, someone, and it may be the three groups that commissioned this research, has to develop a strategy that allows the very large number of young women now in the profession to take up leadership roles both before and after any career breaks. If the profession doesn’t do that then we truly will have a crisis in a few years’ time.

One solution suggested by the report is to recruit outsiders to senior posts. I doubt that will work for most headships. In the past when asked my view of this solution by journalists, I have always asked if I could become their editor with no knowledge of journalism. You can image their answers.

Where I do think there is a possible direction of travel is for larger MATs. After all, there are example of CEOs of MATs currently without either any or any recent school experience. The larger the organisation the more leadership requires general not specific knowledge. Teaching and learning can be the responsibility of a second tier officer, whereas overall strategy remains the responsibility of the CEO. In effect, CEOs of MATS become very similar to Superintendents of US School districts, some of whom are recruited from the worlds of business and commerce.

Where you cannot recruit easily from outside the profession is where the leadership role requires hands-on experience of teaching and learning.  Despite the comments in the report, the majority of problems in recruitment in the past has been in the primary sector where the ratio of deputies to heads is much smaller than in the secondary sector.  Filling a faith school headship in an inner-city schools seeking a new head teacher in April has always been a challenge. This report doesn’t show whether it as actually any harder than it was twenty-five years ago.

In summary, the report is helpful in reminding everyone of the need for sufficient good leaders for all our schools and some of the risks ahead. The need for action over preparation is also vital, but the report doesn’t deal with who should take on the task? Presumably, the three organisations that put their names to the report would all like to play a part.

 

 

 

 

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.