It is well over a decade since the difficulty of recruiting headteachers for our state schools was identified as a major issue. Most people – parents, governors, school staff, Ofsted and the Government – would put the headteacher at the top of their list as to what makes a school successful and the headteacher, therefore, can be considered a major factor in improving education in the UK. Why is it then that these same people have done little to improve the lot of the headteacher?
The average length of service of headteachers was between 9 and 10 years just 5 years ago but this is falling rapidly and it is not just those reaching retirement age who are leaving the profession. It was reported that in 2014 one in four of Academy headteachers left post. This recruitment season (2014/15) has seen the lowest number of application for posts I can remember, with a dearth of quality applications. The most difficult phase remains primary, where 3 to 5 applications can be seen as a success! Faith schools pray for 1 application.
For many teachers the risks and stress associated with being a headteacher are now not worth contemplating, whatever the pay and opportunities. The age profile of headteachers dictated that an unusually high proportion of heads reached retirement over the last 10 years. However the issue today is that too many heads are leaving early and that many deputies and assistant heads are choosing not to look for headships.
We have a “perfect storm” in our schools at present. Whilst many people would support inspections and accountability in schools, the short termism that this can bring means that heads are often judged over relatively short term indicators rather than being supported to improve and develop. Parents are increasingly encouraged to challenge schools and this is leading to as many unsupportable claims as valid concerns. Schools as institutions are becoming increasingly complex to lead and manage without the support services Local Authorities have traditionally provided. Headteachers feel increasingly isolated when asked to implement policy changes and ensure the safety and development of their pupils. This is bought about not by an individual political party or doctrine but by the nature of modern government itself.
Only by mitigating the risks and reducing the isolation can we improve the situation in the short term. Schools need to make headteacher retention and development a priority within their School Development Plans. Schools need to work on this in their clusters or groups, with their LAs if appropriate. Existing heads need CPD not just in new or changing areas but in complex leadership, management and collaboration. Senior team development programmes need to be broader and more creative, dovetailing to National College courses. Most importantly developing leaders need coaching and motivating for the jump to headship.
Governors should work with their heads to manage workloads and find more robust solutions to problems than to just leave them solely in the hands of the head. Retention needs to be a proactive strategy within a school’s plans, including sabbaticals, opportunities to work outside of the school, welfare management as part of the performance management process and, where appropriate, independent advisory support.
Headteacher recruitment is a challenging but rewarding process that needs to be properly timed and managed to show the school and its opportunities in the best possible light. More on this in our next headteacher recruitment blog in the autumn.
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If you would like to talk to our adviser, Andy Best, about headteacher recruitment and the best approach for your school please call 07917 080201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.