Hard times for head-hunters

STATE OF THE PROFESSION 2006-07: * Family comes first for female staff who are postponing their promotion bids l Teachers are retiring early * No one wants to be a headteacher * But new teachers are more confident than ever

Primary schools are struggling to find heads, but a study published today suggests the situation in secondaries may be improving. They received an average 16 applications for every headship advertised last year, up from 12.8 the previous year. But the the Education Data Surveys report (see story, left) shows that primaries received an average of only 4.8 applications, down from 5.4 the previous year and more than 6 in the years before. Nearly 3 out of 10 of the posts were still unfilled when the study was completed.

John Howson, author of the report, tracked nearly 3,000 leadership jobs advertised in the last year. He said the recruitment problems might stem from concerns about workload, the high number of heads reaching retirement, and insufficient gaps between the salaries of heads and senior staff.

"Whatever the reason, this issue is a matter for concern," he says. "A failure to appoint can impose financial burdens on small schools and, even more seriously, may lead to a period without a head in charge."

"As the potential number of head posts has been reduced due to amalgamations, federations and existing heads being asked to look after more than one school, the underlying problem may be even worse."

The Goverment has denied reports that federations are being used to cover up difficulties recruiting heads. But one head quoted anonymously in the study said that their school was to be made part of a federation because it had failed to attract applicants.

Professor Howson said difficulties remained for secondaries and that more than a fifth had not been able to make an appointment.

His report, for the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the number of ethnic minority teachers becoming heads remained "depressingly low", particularly in special schools. As in previous years, it found that it was significantly harder for faith schools to recruit because their applicants were limited by religion.

Professor Howson called on churches to set up an audit of the faiths of staff in their schools to find out whether there were sufficient future leaders.

He urged the Government to use data on staff movements, which it will collect from 2008 to help schools which lose several teachers at one time.

John Dunford, general secretary of ASCL, said: "I am pleased with the results for secondaries, but the Government must not take its eye off the ball. The real problems will begin in the next few years when many heads are due to retire."

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