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 ( 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 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?

Phoenix rising

The DfE has today published a Policy Paper putting more bones on the body of the idea of a career development framework for teachers Delivering world class teacher development policy paper ( To those of us with long memories it reads a bit like the early 1990s justification for the creation of the Teacher Training Agency. At that time QUANGOs were fashionable, nowadays government departments like to keep a tighter hold on policy, and don’t let the overall control of this sort of structure outside of the Department’s oversight.

Today’s document is a bit of a curate’s egg. The clickthrough for the Institute of Education on page 8 goes to the document New Institute of Teaching set to be established – GOV.UK ( not updated since January 2021, and containing quotes from (Sir) Gavin Williamson, the then Secretary of State and Nick Gibb, the former Minister.

Strangely, for a Policy Paper, readers are told to contact their local Teaching Hub to find out more than is in this relatively slight document. I hope that there is a coordinated response for those that do take the trouble to make contact.

The different strands linking together career development paths are ambitious, but necessary. However, it all looks a bit artificial and lacking in both sticks and carrots. Should teachers be required to recertify every few years or would such a move reveal the inability of the system to properly train those asked to teach our young people.

The lack of any mention of special needs, the sector with the highest percentage of unqualified teachers is disappointing, and the numeracy lobby will wonder why literacy is singled out for a specialist NPQ, but they do rate a mention?

In the end, the success of the project will come down to the cash on offer, and how career development will be paid for. The offering in today’s document is still a long way from Mrs Thatcher’s sabbatical term idea based upon the James Committee Report that was scuppered by the 1970s oil crisis. Indeed, it might be worth having a look in the library for a copy of that White Paper; Education – a Framework for Expansion that appear half a century ago.

Teaching Hubs and Regional School Commissioners are no real substitute for a coherent middle tier that can manage the local career development offering for teachers across a local area.

I would like to think that a career framework for all teachers wanting to make the profession their career for the whole of their working life will counter the notion of everyone having several different careers in a lifetime, but it is difficult on the basis of past outcomes to be anything other than sceptical about the needs of individuals rather than the wishes for a system. Will Phoenix make it out of the ashes of past attempts at career development for teachers? I am not sure based upon this Policy Document.

Is £30,000 enough?

Congratulations to the team of civil servants at the DfE. Now that’s a sentence you probably didn’t expect to read on this blog. However, the detailed evidence from the DfE to the STRB issued yesterday 2022 pay award: Government evidence to the STRB ( marks one of the most comprehensive analyses of the functioning of the labour market for teachers that has been published in recent years.

Perhaps, I can now retire, since the government has accepted almost everything that I have been pointing out for the past decade, and has also provided the evidence in minute detail that might provide some interesting posts for this blog over the next few weeks.

When a starting salary of £30,000 for teachers was first mooted, it was generous. Now with inflation running at a ten-year high, and the world looking like it might be facing a re-run of the 1972 oil price shock that led to a decade of high inflation and wage erosion, and incidentally did for the plans for much better CPD for teachers in the wake of the James Report, the £30,000 figure may not be as generous as intended. Time will tell.

There are two anxieties behind the good news. The first is whether small primary schools with falling rolls due to a decline in the birth rate will be able to afford the new pay structure? The DfE evidence could have done more to model this scenario, and the possible consequences for different parts of rural England in particular.  Church schools in urban areas may also be affected.

My second anxiety revolves around the extent to which the DfE has taken on board the relationship between training and employment and the global nature of the teaching profession. Of course, a willingness to work overseas might change, but with the growth in international schools being largely outside of Europe, might mid-career teachers witnessing their differential to less experienced colleagues diminish consider whether they could earn more teaching overseas? Perhaps, TeachTapp could ask that question?

Schools can restore differential for mid-career teachers by the judicial use of Recruitment and Retention Allowances, and it is interesting to see how these have been used across England, with areas where the labour market is tight seeing schools more willing to use such awards. Of course, it also depends upon having the cash in the budget to be able to do so.

Schools in parts of South East England outside the London pay structure, but with strong competition from the private school sector, such as in Oxfordshire, may well also be concerned about the likely consequences of this pay settlement.

One sensible move that doesn’t need to STRB involvement, would be to better match training to employment to guarantee sufficient supply to all areas. At present, the supply pattern isn’t anywhere near as effective as it should be, especially with the levelling up agenda.

If you are interested in teacher supply, do please read the DfE evidence as it is well worth the effort.

Leadership trends in schools- 2020

TeachVac 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

Worth a second look

Some posts on this blog deserve a second look. With nearly 1,100 posts now on the site, I don’t have a complete list, so even I am surprised when a visitor digs up a post from over seven years ago that resonates as much today as it did when originally posted.

Many of those that visit the blog today weren’t even in education, at least on the teaching side of the desk or camera, in 2013, so when it reappeared as the result of someone’s trawl through the archives, I thought I would ensure it was worth a second look to a new group of readers.

Winds of change in Manchester

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The last two days I have been in Manchester for the SSAT Annual Conference. This is a celebration of many of the good things in school leadership. The delegates here are anything but average in their approach to education. The conference started with Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves talking about their new book: Professional Capital. In this increasingly secular age, where many head teachers are probably agnostics, it was interesting to hear Andy Hargreaves take the example of the parable of the master that leaves his servants a sum of money to use wisely in his absence and finds that two have invested while the third had just kept the money safe by burying the cash in the ground. The message of invest for progress was an interesting one.

At the same conference I participated in a panel debate about preparing teachers, and led a workshop on professional development. The following ten phrases are the ones that provided me with a framework for discussion in the workshop.

Hire exceptional people: add value.

Seek heroines and heroes: not villains and scapegoats.

Dump portmanteau careers: welcome career changers

Look for leaders of every age.

Education is a business not a market.

Sell the brand

Engage the family

Cash balances don’t educate children.

Quality assurance before quality control.

know the facts: tell the truth.

I had a good example of the last one of these while I was composing this post. I received an email that a Minister had confirmed the over allocation of ITT places was 9% this year. The fact is true, but disguises the more important information that the over allocation was in the order of 18% for secondary places, but only 6% in the primary sector.

Many of the other statements can generate discussion and some have already been aired in posts on this site. Hopefully, the remained will feature at some time in the future.

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 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 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.