Governors' decisions to save money by cutting deputy headships accounts for much of the 5,500 drop in numbers, although school closures and amalgamations have also played a part. It is now feared that the dwindling number of deputies revealed in the Department for Education and Employment's figures could exacerbate the headteacher supply crisis and affect teachers' career prospects.
Six years ago there were more than two deputies per school; now there are fewer than two. "This is a significant decline," said John Howson, formerly of the Teacher Training Agency. "If there are fewer deputy posts this will cause a blockage in teachers' promotion prospects."
Headteachers say budgets have forced governing bodies to save money By cutting down on the number of deputy heads.
John Dunford, former Secondary Heads Association president, said: "Since local management was introduced in 1990, it has increasingly been seen as an option to save money. But we are now left in the situation where some schools with more than 1,000 pupils have no deputy at all."
Peter Miller, deputy at Wrenn school, Wellingborough, and also a former SHA president, said: "With requirements for target-setting, school development plans and evaluation there is more, not less, need for deputies. In our joint submissions to the (School Teachers Review Body on pay), the two headteacher associations have said the post of deputy should be mandatory in all schools. So far, we have been ignored, but that is because the review body does not understand how schools operate."
This will result, said Mr Miller, in fewer teachers having senior management experience which will in turn affect head recruitment. "Where will the seedcorn for headship be?," said Mr Miller. "Some will be selected via the NQHT (headteachers' qualification), but that on its own will not select the next generation of brilliant heads."
The reduction in heads and deputies worries the headteacher unions. SHA has a membership of 8,759 and, according to a spokeswoman, the union is "keeping a steady balance". But when the membership of 1991 is compared with today's, it can be seen that associate members, most of whom are retired heads and pay a fraction of the subscription fees, are bolstering the numbers.
John Sutton, the union's general secretary, has announced that he will retire next summer after 10 years at the helm. This has led to speculation that his departure could lead to renewed discussions with the National Association of Head Teachers on a merger. Senior members of SHA have voiced caution. "There is still a feeling that secondary heads should maintain a separate voice, but the future of the two unions could depend upon who is chosen to succeed John, " said one.
The NAHT claims a membership of 32,000. General secretary David Hart says the union has been successful in recruiting deputies who were members of other unions and has also increased its secondary membership. "The case hasn't been stronger for having one organisation to represent heads and deputies and I would be delighted if the SHA was to enter meaningful talks," he said.
Bid to allay debt fear, page 6