GOOD headteachers make good schools. This truism is repeated in a plethora
of education research and reports, the most recent published last month by the
National Audit Office. During a House of Lords debate on the latest education
White Paper, Lady Shephard — a former Education Secretary who was once a
schools inspector — made a similar contention. "The quality of leadership and
teaching in a school, and, above all, the calibre of the head, are what most
influence the quality of a school," she told the House.
But almost simultaneously, the 21st annual survey of senior staff
appointments in England and Wales was carried out by Professor John Howson, an
expert in teacher supply. It confirmed, as it has in recent years, that
headteachers are increasingly in short supply.
Moreover, the report revealed, the position worsened during 2005,
particularly for secondary schools. For the first time, more than a third of
all schools had to advertise headships more than once. And 2005 also saw a
record £70,000 salary offered for a primary headship in London.
"The levels recorded represent a labour market that is in some state of
crisis," the report says. Those most likely to re-advertise were church
schools, schools in London, and small schools in rural areas. Given that London
and Southwark dioceses have 251 schools between them, and half of all small
schools are C of E foundations, it is clear that the Church has a particular
Roman Catholic schools are in the most parlous position: almost six in ten
schools are unable to appoint after one advertisement. The strict rules, which
insist on RC school heads being practising Catholics, restrict the pool from
which their governors can recruit.
For Church of England schools, requirements are more elastic. For many
headships, while practising Anglicans are preferred, a general Christian
commitment or even just
a willingness to support the ethos of the school is accepted. Nevertheless,
44 per cent of all C of E schools seeking a headteacher last year had to
advertise at least twice.
Professor Howson knows of schools that needed five advertisements to find a
head. The situation is familiar to Canon Peter Hartley, Chelmsford diocesan
director of education. A small church school just outside Chelmsford advertised
five times for a new head before an appointment was made. "In the end it was a
very good appointment — but it took time," he said.
According to Canon Hartley, a number of factors deter people from applying
for headships in small schools. Because salaries are based on size, heads of
small schools often earn less than deputies in larger schools, but still have
to cope with expanding administration. At the same time they have to cover for
teachers who now have mandatory time out of the classroom for planning and
David Etherton, head of St Peter’s C of E Primary, Cowfold, West Sussex, has
been running the school in neighbouring Bolney village since September, as well
as his own, while Bolney’s governors hunt for a head.
Mr Etherton agrees that potential heads are put off applying for small
schools because the differential between their pay and that of classroom
teachers does not match the extra responsibility. Moreover, he says, improved
conditions of work for teachers put extra burdens on the head. "In small
schools there is no deputy to whom you can delegate responsibility, and many
people feel the extra pay is just not worth the extra work," he says.
A new head for Bolney will start at Easter, but Mr Etherton estimates he
will still work from 7.30 to 6, Monday to Thursday — he tries to leave at 4 on
Fridays — with at least one evening each week given over to meetings. At 35,
and with three young children, he earns an unspectacular £40,000 a year.
A committed Christian, Etherton says: "For me teaching is a vocation, not a
career." Before taking up his present job he had always worked in community
schools, and is delighted with the extra support he receives from Chichester
diocese. "I think Christians in community schools should investigate what
church schools have to offer," he says.
While a mere two advertisements were needed to find Bolney’s new head,
Chichester diocese, which has a handful of primaries with fewer than 40 pupils
among its 169 schools, had to advertise five times to fill one headship. But
the diocesan director of education, Jeremy Taylor, is optimistic about the
future. "Though we often have to advertise more than once, we’re getting
applications from young, lively teachers looking for their first headship — an
Chichester runs intensive induction courses for new heads. Another
initiative is tackling the issue of small schools by encouraging them to
federate or form partnerships with other schools, including sharing one
headteacher. Such partnerships give heads a better salary, and wider
opportunities boost their careers, says Taylor.
IN the capital, as the Howson report underlines, the situation is at its
worst. Advertisements for 16 primary headships last year attracted an average
of only three applicants; five schools advertised twice or more. For most
posts, only two applicants were interviewed. Tom Peryer, the diocesan director
of education, says: "Ofsted assessments suggest we’re managing to maintain
quality. Leadership in 80 per cent of our schools was judged good or better; so
we’re not making second-rate appointments. But we’d be comfortable with greater
St Michael’s C of E primary, Camden Town, north London, made local headlines
when it advertised for the sixth time for a new head. The fact that 88 per cent
of its pupils have a home language other than English, and almost 60 per cent
receive free school meals, hint at the challenges it presents.
For Lynn Trigg, they were challenges she couldn’t resist. She was in her
seventh year as head at the oversubscribed Hampstead Parochial School, and felt
it was on a good footing. "I’d read research reports that showed heads were
most effective in their first seven years in a job. I’d reached that point, and
though I wasn’t looking for a change, I had to consider St Michael’s when it
After a term dividing her time between Hampstead and Camden Town, she moved
to her new school last month. While insisting that "they’re lovely children",
not play down the size of the task. The school’s inner-London circumstances
boosted her salary to around £60,000, but she works a minimum 60-hour week.
"We’re told about the important of work/home balance. It will be some time
before I achieve that."
At 51, Mrs Trigg is young enough to give seven years to St Michael’s and
take on another school after that. But the high number of heads nearing 60 will
lead to a retirement boom over the next five years. Church schools, with
proportionately more older heads, will be proportionately more affected. So
what is being done to remedy the problem?
"We’re taking steps to ‘grow our own’," says Tom Peryer. His diocese runs
courses in management and preparation for leadership, besides informally
encouraging able teachers.
Dioceses across the country have similar strategies. The National College of
School Leadership, responsible for the professional qualification that heads
now need, has courses tailored towards church schools. Richard Jones, programme
manager for the college, says: "We particularly want to encourage deputy heads
and senior staff in church schools to take the qualification."fo
There are other, unofficial, initiatives like the Transforming Lives
programme, which began last month, backed by the Sainsbury Trust. Aimed at
persuading Christians to see teaching as a vocation, it has a brief wider than
church schools. But its director, Dr Trevor Cooling, accepts that a bigger pool
of Christian teachers will ease their problems. He believes the dearth of
applicants for headships, generally, is because they face the possibility of
high-profile failure. "They can be publicly failed, kicked out, closed down. We
have to give them confidence."
The shortage of heads is a problem that needs a long-term solution, not a
short-term fix, says Professor Howson. He says the seeds of the present crisis
were sown 20 years ago when falling rolls in schools, the result of an earlier
drop in the birth rate, led to too sharp a cutback in the number of teachers
recruited for training. This is now happening again.
"We need to avoid another crisis 20 years on. The Government must ensure
that when universities select trainee teachers now, they must have regard not
just to those immediately needed for the classroom, but recruit the leaders
necessary for tomorrow’s schools."
David Etherton (above) has been running St Peter's and a
school in the neighbouring village