A headteacher's lot is not a happy one

May Ferries

As a depute head who has "acted up" on three separate occasions, I was astonished to hear that both headteachers' organisations think their problems will be solved by the strategy of claiming a salary increase of 10 per cent on top of whatever teachers get.

Their salary claim can only be processed through the teachers' side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, a body on which heads were represented but from which they chose to withdraw.

Having withdrawn from the opportunity to persuade colleagues face-to-face of the fairness of their claim, Bill McGregor of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, suggests that, if the teacher unions refuse to support the additional 10 per cent claim, they will send a very clear message that they are not interested in securing a fair settlement for heads and deputes.

Apparently, if this pay claim is not met, there will be continuing difficulties in filling headteacher posts. There does not seem to be a problem filling depute head posts, but they should still get the additional 10 per cent although they are not keen to be heads.

This is nothing to do with salary. In secondary schools, there is a significant differential between deputes and heads, so the salary for headship should be attractive. There has been a lot of criticism that job-sizing made deputes in primaries too well-off to bother taking on the additional responsibilities of headship. But perhaps the nub is that depute head is the best job of all.

As a fairly new depute, my first experience of being an acting head was in the late 1980s. I covered a four-month secondment in a school like my own. I enjoyed this valuable staff development opportunity - doing the job day-to-day, but with the head on the end of the phone if anything big happened.

Not long after that, my headteacher got a new job and I acted up in my own school. This proved to be a more realistic experience. I had hoped it would be about curriculum and staff development and building relationships with pupils and their families. I spent hours on discipline, social work contacts, building problems and my employing authority's administrative procedures. I withdrew my application for the job after a serious disagreement with my employer.

The third "acting-up" opportunity was recently when my headteacher got a new job. I was willing to "hold the fort" for continuity reasons and I have a beautiful red leather sofa in my house as a souvenir. I never considered applying for the job as I knew salary was not the issue: quality of professional life was.

Employers must examine the nature of the job of heads if there is a recruitment crisis. Satisfying the demands of legislation, school inspectors, quality improvement officers and performance league tables, while dealing with inclusion, discipline and budget cuts, is not attractive.

Leadership is attractive to people who have vision and commitment, but if they want quality relationships with staff and pupils, admin has to be done before or after the school day. What about worklife balance? What about personal health and a long retirement on a good pension?

How can collegiality thrive and distributive leadership grow when senior managers' organisations demand derisive additional pay increases and cite their workload as more significant than those they seek to lead. The demands of the modern classroom have grown too and collegiate leaders recognise that.

HAS and the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland should be ashamed of themselves. As a depute head, I wish to dissociate myself from their very public elitism. I will continue my work on developing collegiality, but their actions have made that work significantly more difficult.

May Ferries is depute head in a primary school.

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