The national figure does not reveal the whole picture - in inner London 71 per cent, and in West Yorkshire 88 per cent of primary schools that failed to appoint a head had KS2 English results below their authority average. The position is nearly as bad in many other large cities.
The proposed solution of threatening to close the "poor performing" schools may make matters even worse. Why should a headteacher take on a potentially failing school if the price of failure is the lack of a job?
Other teachers may also take this view. If that is the case, then, such schools will be forced by the market to pay a "risk premium" to attract any staff; good-quality staff may require an even higher premium to accept the risk.
One way around this problem may be to employ 'contract heads'. In the pre-market days, the local authority would have employed such heads. Today, the new breed of education service companies that are emerging from the supply agencies may well employ them. For such heads the price of failure would not necessarily be the loss of a job but the switch to another contract.
Some heads and even teachers could decide to make their careers working for short periods in a school facing problems before moving to take on another challenge. They would be expected to be appropriately rewarded for the challenge in much the same way as a company doctor who specialises in taking a senior management position in a company that has run into difficulties.
Without such radical thinking those schools already burdened with the most difficulties will still face the greatest problems in attracting new heads.
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an education research company. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org HEADSHIPS IN UNDER-PERFORMING SCHOOLS
Primary headships re-advertised between Jan 1994 and May 1998 and their KS2
Schools above Schools below Percentage below
LEA average LEA average LEA average
LEAschools 211 372 64%
Church of England 120 78 39%
Roman Catholic 111 37 33%
Total 442 487 52%
SOURCE:Education Data Survey.