Applications for top teaching posts are falling as more and more headteachers take early retirement, according to a survey commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers.
Two-thirds of schools advertising for headteachers or deputies between January and March this year reported that the number of responses had either stayed the same or declined compared with previous years. Candidates for primary headships and deputy headships were down by 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively on 1988 figures. Those for deputy headships in secondary schools showed a decrease of 28 per cent. Forty-one schools received less than 10 applications for headships, while two schools each received just one application.
John Howson, of Oxford Brookes University, who carried out the research, said that the re-advertisement of primary headships - up by 2 per cent to 16 per cent over the last year - showed dissatisfaction at senior levels. "Any rise in the re-advertisement rate would be a warning that a crisis had arrived, " he said. "Senior staff in schools have faced a period of great stress and uncertainty during the past 10 years.
"With the current pressures of increased pupil numbers and declining resources, it is probably not surprising that the recruitment of senior staff should be becoming more difficult. It may well be that the motivation to undertake the leadership of our schools is also declining."
Thirty per cent of outgoing headteachers took early retirement - a quarter of them for reasons of stress or ill-health, and 5 per cent because of budget-cutting.
"These are very worrying statistics," said David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT. "This loss of talent and experience is particularly regrettable if it is essentially for financial reasons."
The survey also found gender differences in appointments. Nearly twice as many women as men were taken on at senior levels in primary schools with fewer than 350 pupils. However, men account for two-thirds of those given top jobs in secondary and larger primary schools.
"Women who have been out of teaching for some time because they have been bringing up children are disadvantaged and there is still in some quarters a prejudice against women which needs to be removed," said David Hart.
The NAHT is lobbying the School Teachers' Review Body to recommend a "significant" pay rise and improved working conditions in an effort to reverse the decline. Senior staff in smaller schools should also be relieved of their "excessive" teaching commitment, said David Hart. "To make the position more attractive from a salary point of view is not the only criteria, but is obviously an essential element. The salary differential that exists between the highest-paid teacher in a school and the deputy head is inadequate to reward the substantial increase in responsibility. At the end of the day, they are going to say 'it's not worth going for a deputy headship. I may not be better off financially, but I'm better off in terms of quality of life.'"