Hunt is on for heads

One school paid a firm pound;40k to seek out the ideal principal. How far would you go? Martin Whittaker reports

When it came to finding the right person to run the new David Young community academy, the governing body decided to think big.

As well as advertising for a new principal, the Leeds school's governors hired a firm of head-hunters - but at a cost. The total recruitment bill came to pound;40,000.

The average school governor would faint at the thought of committing such a sum to recruiting a headteacher. But the academy's chair of governors, businessman Hartley Moyes, is matter-of-fact. "Because governors are not business-orientated, they are probably intimidated by the numbers," he said. "For an individual, pound;40,000 is a huge amount of money. But for a business with a pound;6 million budget and pound;23m capital spend, pound;40,000 is small beer."

Their new principal is Ros McMullen, who had successfully turned around Kingsdown school in Wigan, where six years ago only 7 per cent of pupils gained five or more grades A* to C at GCSE. By 2004 passes were at 35 per cent. Her post pays more than pound;100,000 a year, and the salaries of such superheads are likely to increase as more academies open, scrambling to appoint the best leaders.

According to the latest annual survey of senior staff appointments in schools by Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys, the position has deteriorated significantly in the past year, particularly for secondary schools, with more than 33 per cent having to re-advertise posts.

"The levels recorded represent a labour market that is in some state of crisis at a point in time where the growth in retirements is likely to cause a growth in the number of posts on offer during the next few years,"

says Professor Howson in his report.

He said some secondaries are resorting to executive search firms, though most are deterred by the cost.

Michael Watson, education specialist with recruitment consultants Rockpools, says schools are turning to headhunters to distinguish themselves from others in an increasingly competitive market.

"I wouldn't say there's a huge rush to consultancy, unless schools fail to appoint. But for those schools that feel they need a particular type of headteacher and can afford it, headhunting is well on their agenda," he said.

The governors of Fortismere school, in the London borough of Haringey, used Rockpools to find a new head after advertising nationally twice but still failing to appoint - although it is a top-performing secondary.

Chair of governors John Abraham said: "We had some decent candidates, but there was no one who really excited us."

Coming from a business background, he was used to using executive search firms for appointments. "It might have cost us a bit more money, but it saved an awful lot of governors' time."

Fortismere's new head, due to start next term, was not looking for a job when he was approached by the recruitment consultants, and is moving to London from a head's post in the West Country. Still, finding the right person was not easy - the search consultants considered a large field of candidates.

"You could say that we're particularly demanding as governors, but because we are a high-performing school, we wanted someone who could prove they had taken results on in a high-performing school," said Mr Abraham.

Peter Addison-Child, managing director of Navigate, the recruitment consultancy which helped find the principal of David Young community academy, says given the headteacher shortage, governing bodies have to be much more proactive when recruiting.

He said: "Very often the candidates the governors are looking for are not looking for the governors. So that means taking opportunities out to people, thinking about the brief the governors are setting and then matching that to the way the market is at the moment, and the people who might be looking for their next opportunity."

But will using headhunters be enough to keep the Government's plans for 200 academies by 2010 on track? The Leeds academy's pound;40,000 outlay on recruitment netted it a list of two dozen candidates. "Out of that there were only two people who I would regard as employable for our academy,"

said Mr Moyes. He believes this poses an enormous challenge for the Government. "There are people today who are excellent teachers in non-managerial positions, who in a few years' time will be heads and very good ones.

"But if you go into the market and want 200 for the academies, and you have all the other schools competing for the best heads, there just aren't the people there."


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