As a part-time job to bring in a bit of extra spending money, the role of chair of the influential School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) looks, on the face of it, to be rather an attractive offer. Bringing in more than #163;10,000 for 30 days' work a year, the position also carries the prestige associated with overseeing a review body which advises the education secretary on changes to the pay and conditions of more than 500,000 teachers in England and Wales.
When the position was advertised in March, officials at the Department for Education could have been forgiven for thinking that the biggest difficulty in finding a replacement for Dr Anne Wright, who had held the role for the previous three years, would have been in deciding who to choose.
But, as it turns out, ministers were unable to find anyone they wanted at all. TES understands that two names were put forward to prime minister David Cameron; neither of them was approved. The DfE confirmed it had not yet received an application from a suitable candidate. "It is important to attract a broader range of candidates so that we get the right person with the key skills and experience to lead the STRB," a spokesman said.
Now, eight months on, the position has been re-advertised. And the delay must be causing severe irritation for education secretary Michael Gove. While the minister has the power to make changes to teachers' pay, duties and hours, he is legally required to refer the matter to the STRB before making his decision. And, until a new chair is in place, he is unable to ask the review body to draw up any new reports. "There is a growing backlog of issues that needs to be sorted out," said Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT.
Even when a new chair is in post, the STRB is required to consult and consider evidence from the teaching unions, local authorities and bodies representing school governors before it can issue a report to Mr Gove. And for the minister who has overseen a wholesale transformation of the education landscape in just 18 months, the delay has caused an unexpected and unwelcome hiatus in his breakneck educational revolution.
"It's a crucial role. It's a difficult role, but it affects everyone in the teaching profession, and it's one that has to be got right. Some people were worried the lack of an appointment meant that the role didn't have a long-term future. I've been assured that's not the case by the Department, which says it's very important they get it right," Mr Hobby added.
"The review board has certain statutory responsibilities which it is important it carries out," ATL deputy general secretary Martin Johnson said. "This paralysis is not good. Previous ministers have felt the weight of the STRB. They might not have accepted all of its views, but they felt they should give serious thought to its recommendations."
David Trace, chair of the Association of School and College Leaders' pay and conditions committee, thinks the money on offer - equivalent to #163;350 a day, only #163;50 a day more than other board members receive - could be deterring high-calibre candidates. "It's not that well-paid. Assuming the chair has to write the report in response to the remit, it doesn't seem that well rewarded."
With a number of issues still needing to be considered by the STRB - not least the role of executive principals, currently not clarified in pay and conditions documents - the pressure on the Department to make an appointment is mounting.
Interested parties have until 6 December to apply for the post. If the first batch of applicants is anything to go by, Mr Gove could face another struggle to find a candidate who meets his exacting standards.
AN IDEAL CANDIDATE
What the STRB chair advertisement says:
"We are looking for an exceptional candidate who will have substantial leadership and management experience gained at a senior level. A track record of motivating a multi-disciplinary group of experts to work together will be critical. Though direct experience in the education sector is not essential, your presence and credibility will ensure you command the respect of all those you work with. You will need an appreciation of reward issues, will be able to think creatively and innovatively to address current and future challenges and act as an effective advocate for change."