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Schools 'struggling to attract Head Teachers'

Four in ten primary schools found their Head Teacher vacancies unfilled after their first advertisement last year; a situation which has not been seen in the past 26 years.

These are the findings of the most recent Annual Survey of Senior Staff Appointments, which was released recently by Education Data Surveys (EDS). "With one in five local authorities seeing more than half their primary schools that were looking for a new head being unsuccessful at least once, and some having to place two, three or more rounds of advertisements, this is a serious situation," the survey's author, Professor John Howson, said. And, even though the issue was more pronounced in some locations or types of educational institution, he stressed it was truly a national problem.

Secondary schools fared slightly better when it came to readvertisement rates, with 28 per cent of positions being promoted more than once, a slight increase on the number seen last year. Special schools, meanwhile, found themselves in a similar position as primary institutions, with 41 per cent of headship positions being advertised more than once.Faith schools were said to be experiencing particular problems, with the readvertisement rates for Roman Catholic schools soaring to 60 per cent for 2009 / 10; part of the reason why the overall figure for unfilled primary positions were so high.

The number of Head Teacher vacancies remained the same, although the number of Deputy Head positions being advertised was said to be in decline. And this trend, according to Professor Howson, is what has led to a shortage of skilled professionals being available to fill Head Teacher positions.

"We have always been aware that as the baby boomer generation starts to retire there was likely to be a rise in the number of vacancies around this time," Toby Salt, Deputy Chief Executive of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services, said.

However, according to some, the problem is much more complex than there simply too many people retiring and there not being enough Deputy Heads to fill their shoes. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said although he recognises the "demographics are unfavourable" the problem runs far deeper than this. "It is not fundamentally about bureaucracy (although reducing this is welcome); it is certainly not about behaviour and safety. The evidence base is strong: the main deterrent to leading a school is a crude and punitive approach to accountability. "Heads who choose to work in the most challenging circumstances fear shifting goal posts, hasty interventions, constant scrutiny and unfair measures."

The EDS research had a few suggestions of its own about why schools were having so many issues attracting Head Teachers. Among the reasons it believes people could be discouraged from applying for posts is a the wage simply being advertised as an "attractive salary", which is particularly seen for posts paying £100,000 or more, "which suggests a degree of bargaining is necessary; not a skill many candidates possess".

The timing of advertisements was also said to have an impact on the chances of it being filled. Half of all the posts available during the year were promoted in January, February or March. "A post advertised during this period can still be re-advertised and an appointment made for September. However, advertisements placed later than April risk a delay in appointments," the report said.

The authors admitted the dramatic increase in unfilled vacancies was something which had not been predicted when the previous report was compiled, but suggested the entrance of the coalition government in May 2010 could have had an effect on the statistics.  "As many schools enter into a period of funding turmoil with some being substantial winners as a result of the pupil premium and others facing falling rolls, reduced 16 to 19 funding and a revised formula that may work to their disadvantage, it would not be surprising if some schools proved a challenge that applicants were unwilling to consider, especially with the threat of the effects of failure hanging over them," the report stated.

In his conclusion, Professor Howson said the current system, where so many vacancies remain unfilled after the first advertisement, is "wasteful of resources and prevents money being allocated for front-line functions associated with teaching and learning".

Despite the problems which clearly exist in filling Head Teach posts, the NAHT is still keen to promote a career as a school leader and all the attractions it holds.Mr Hobby said: "Our head teacher members genuinely love their work. In how many other positions can you change so many lives for the better?"

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