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Head count still down but future looks brighter

While some schools started the new term without a permanent leader, elsewhere the recruitment crisis has eased

While some schools started the new term without a permanent leader, elsewhere the recruitment crisis has eased

Confusion surrounds the number of schools starting off the new school year without a permanent headteacher, with some areas are reporting an improvement.

Concerns over recruitment have been lingering for years, but data from recruitment analysts suggests that in some areas the situation may be getting slightly better this year.

Some reports this week warned of up to a thousand schools starting the term without a permanent head. But the latest figures indicate that the situation is not as diabolical as the headlines suggest.

Secondary headship recruitment seems to be turning a corner. The proportion of schools that recruited after their first advertisement last year was the best for seven years. In inner-London, too, 61 per cent of schools found a new head on their first ad, the best figure since 1998.

Last academic year, only 21 per cent of secondaries advertising failed to find a head between September and March, but even those jobs may subsequently have been filled. The number of vacancies this September could be as low as 23.

The only significant downturn in the secondary sector has been in the recruitment of women heads. Only 32 per cent of the posts went to women in 20078, compared with 41 per cent the year before.

Even in the primary sector, where recruitment problems are considered more pressing, there has been a slight improvement on 20067. A report from Education Data Surveys (EDS) suggests that 32 per cent of primaries failed to recruit a head after their first advert between September and March this academic year, compared with a 35 per cent failure rate in 20067.

Of those advertising between May and August this year, 148 failed to recruit for September.

The official Government statistics have changed little over the past 10 years as they do not differentiate between posts filled permanently or temporarily. According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 180 English schools did not have a head in January 2001, compared with 140 in 2008. But a minority of schools are still desperately struggling to recruit a head.

In primaries there are fears that the job is becoming too much for one person, with endless reforms and increased pressure to perform. Unlike secondaries, there is little financial incentive to take on headship in small primaries.

The National College for School Leadership's efforts to ensure succession planning do not seem to have had any effect yet. Part of the problem has been solved by closing, merging and federating primaries.

Professor John Howson, author of the EDS report, said: "The situation overall remains better than some years ago, but we need enough suitable candidates in the system so governors can recruit someone first time around."

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