MINISTERS are pressing local authorities to supply them with a confidential hit-list of underperforming heads as the Government seeks action on a pound;525 million scheme to boost school leadership.
An email to councils last month, seen by The TES, asks them to identify secondary heads and senior staff to be replaced under the leadership incentive grant (LiG) scheme.
Two weeks ago, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said local authorities and governing bodies should be "ruthless" in "taking out" underperforming heads.
The email sets councils - who want to support, not sack, weak heads - on a collision course with ministers.
Some 1,400 secondaries this month were due to receive pound;125,000 in the first year of the three-year leadership scheme. The Government hopes grant cash will be used to pay off underperforming heads.
The email from the "LiG team" at the Department for Education and Skills, gave advisers a day to notify the DfES of proposed school leadership changes. It said: "The leadership incentive grant offers schools and local authorities the opportunity to undertake radical action, particularly in schools causing concern.
"Ministers have asked for an update on the extent to which LiG is likely to be used for this purpose."
The email, marked urgent, asked authorities to name schools where they would be removing heads, deputies or middle management or which would be closed.
Sources at the DfES privately say they expect one in six schools to lose staff under the grant scheme, targeted at schools in deprived areas.
But 10 councils near the bottom of GCSE league tables - which are responsible for a total of 128 schools getting pound;16m of leadership cash this year, would admit to only one head being given a pay-off between them.
Ian Coupe, one of two National Association of Head Teachers regional officers for London, said he knew of only three heads in the capital leaving jobs under the scheme.
The grant is a key part of Labour's drive to transform secondaries and hit ambitious GCSE targets.
Mr Clarke has said he expects only a small minority of heads to lose their jobs, but the low figures will be embarrassing. They come amid accusations that money is being wasted on the scheme at a time when many schools face budget shortfalls. All secondaries in Excellence in Cities areas, plus those at the bottom of national GCSE league tables or with many pupils on free school meals, qualify. However some schools in qualifying areas - such as the London Oratory and grammar schools - are already successful, .
One local authority adviser, who asked not to be named, said: "I think ministers wanted to see an immediate impact from this. They are not going to get it. We want to support our heads and the measures we are putting in place will take time."
Derek Kennard, of North East Lincolnshire council, said it would not "take out" any head of its six LiG schools. "Ruthless action was unnecessary. If it was necessary, we would have taken it already," he said.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This yearning for quick-fix solutions is being driven by a political timetable which has little to do with the real business of turning around schools."