Heads dash to quit early

Resignations in primaries hit record levels as 175 posts are advertised this week. Susan Young reports

Resignations among primary school heads are running at record levels, triggered by the fiasco over the Government's scheme to cut the numbers of teachers taking early retirement.

Today's TES contains more than 175 advertisements for primary heads, on top of 168 last week. This compares with 138 and 61 for the equivalent weeks last year. Vacancies in the first three months of this year were also at record levels, up almost a third compared with the same period last year.

The unprecedented number of resignations comes at a time when the main political parties have identified poor standards in primary schools as a key election issue, with both the Conservatives and Labour pledged to set year-on-year targets for improvement.

Headteachers, school governors and local authorities were quick to seize on The TES figures, seen as a key indicator of the state of the teachers' jobs market, as evidence of a growing shortage crisis.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the incoming government would have to tackle the problem as a matter of urgency.

"The Government's changes to the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme have turned a swollen river of early retirement into a raging torrent. We are looking at a crisis, and it's not just a crisis in terms of numbers, but a crisis of a huge loss of experienced teachers," he said.

The overall number of school vacancies advertised in today's TES is at an all-time high, with a record 251 pages of jobs.

Official figures for the numbers of teachers leaving the profession before the early retirement scheme was tightened are not yet available, but estimates have put the number of those leaving at Easter as high as 17,000.

According to governors' leaders, primary headships are currently proving particularly hard to fill because of increased pressures that have come with delegated budgets and other management responsibilities to schools.

Pay differentials, they say, no longer reflect the responsibility of the job, thus dissuading many high-flyers from entering the profession at all.

Heads, governors and local government bodies are pressing for action by the School Teachers' Review Body.

But with Labour as well as the Tories pledged to stick to the Government's present tough spending targets for pay within the public sector the next Chancellor, of whichever party, is likely to resist any above-budget increase.

In the first 13 weeks of the year, 1,033 primary headships were advertised, compared with 780 in the same period the year before. Average turnover during the past few years has been running at around 2,000 posts per year. Secondary headships are also affected, with 240 advertisements in the first quarter of the year compared with 150 in 1996.

Job vacancies in The TES are regularly monitored by the Teacher Training Agency as a measure of recruitment patterns within the profession.

Most primaries are having recruitment difficulties, with some headships remaining unfilled for months, particularly in villages and inner cities, according to Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association. Tiny village schools suffer from poor pay: inner-city primaries from social problems and high living costs.

Some are forced to improve pay rates, straining school budgets. Others are recruiting managers who are not up to the job and hoping that in-service training and support will bring them through. Many vacancies attract only two or three candidates.

Walter Ulrich, information officer of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said the problem had been raised with the School Teachers' Review Body but it had failed to act."The problem is that if you have intelligent candidates who are thinking about teaching and are interested in professional development and management, they are going to look at these differentials, compare them with those in other walks of life and go elsewhere."

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