The number of assistant heads in England’s state schools has increased by more than a quarter over the last six years, Tes can reveal.
But some commentators have claimed there are now “too many generals, not enough soldiers” in the school system, with Tes analysis finding a huge variation in the size of school senior leadership teams.
According to the school workforce survey, there were 22,100 full-time equivalent (FTE) assistant heads working in English state-funded schools in 2010.
But by 2016, their number had mushroomed to 28,400 – a 28.5 per cent rise.
In comparison, the number of FTE heads increased by 1.4 per cent; deputy heads by 1.6 per cent; and classroom teachers by 2.3 per cent. The number of pupils in state-funded primary and secondary schools, meanwhile, increased by 5.9 per cent.
Commentators have suggested that the disproportionate growth in the number of assistant heads has been driven by the recruitment and retention crisis, with schools offering leadership roles as a means of attracting and keeping talent.
As well as conferring extra status and responsibility, an assistant headship will usually involve a pay rise, as the individual transfers into the “leadership group” salary range.
“Part of it is probably just using the system to give pay rises, essentially as a way of recruitment and retention,” said John Blake, head of education and social reform at the thinktank Policy Exchange.
Impact on workload
The NAHT heads’ union, which told Tes it had seen an increase in the number of assistant heads applying to be members, also said the role is being used as a recruitment tool.
“We struggle to retain teachers in this country, so giving staff more responsibility and rewarding them appropriately is a sensible way of motivating and retaining talented people,” said Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary.
However, Mr Blake said the creation of new assistant heads risked generating unnecessary workload for their teaching colleagues.
“A head clearly cannot say to a brand new shiny assistant head, ‘I’m literally only giving you this for retention purposes, please do not do additional work,’” he said.
“And almost all work that the SLT does has an impact on the workload of other staff in the school.”
Mark Lehain, campaign director for Parents and Teachers for Excellence, said the increasing number of assistant heads was part of a wider phenomenon of “too many generals, not enough soldiers” in the school system, with some heads appointing excessively large senior leadership teams.
While information on whether SLTs have got bigger in recent years is not readily available, analysis by Tes found a significant degree of variation in the size of SLTs.
According to a Tes analysis of a separate set of data from the November 2016 school workforce survey, the share of the teaching workforce on the leadership pay range in England’s secondary schools varies from as high as 50 per cent in one case to as little as 3.4 per cent.
“If money is really tight, schools need to look at more streamlined, lightweight leadership structures,” said Mr Lehain.
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was important “not to fall into a simplistic stereotype that a smaller leadership team is somehow better than a larger one”.
This is an edited article from the 20 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here