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?