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Leadership timebomb

An ageing headteacher population and slow recruitment spells trouble. Graeme Paton and Karen Thornton report

Schools are facing a leadership crisis because of a demographic timebomb which will see half the country's headteachers retire in the next 10 years, according to research. The National College for School Leadership says that 45 per cent of England's 25,000 headteachers are 50-plus and will retire by 2014.

The situation is even worse in Wales, where 62 per cent of heads - 1,164 out of 1,870 - are 50 or more, according to figures from the General Teaching Council for Wales.

The Welsh Assembly government says enough teachers are being trained via the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) to compensate for those retiring. And fewer Welsh schools had to re-advertise headteacher vacancies last year - only 12 per cent of primaries, compared to 36 per cent of primaries in England.

But some local authorities say they don't have enough money to train eligible NPQH candidates.

Meanwhile, they report continuing difficulties finding heads for very small rural schools, where the job carries a heavy teaching commitment, for Welsh-medium schools, and for those in the most challenging urban areas.

The national college says schools are too top-heavy and individual teachers should shoulder more leadership responsibilities in order to train the heads of tomorrow.

Professor John West-Burnham, from Lincoln university, who helped carry out the research, said schools would create a bigger pool of future middle-managers and heads if they encouraged teachers to take more responsibility. Where positions need to be filled, such as heads of year and heads of department, teams of teachers should be appointed rather than placing power in the hands of just one person.

But heads in Wales say schools are already making progress in distributing leadership responsibilities more widely.

Clive Hampton, head of Eirias high school in Colwyn Bay, has so far seen seven of his deputies become heads in their own right. Deputies'

responsibilities are rotated, so they all get experience of curriculum and pastoral work.

As well as running NPQH, the school has its own in-house leadership programme, including work-shadowing opportunities for staff working their way up through faculties.

"It frees the system up and empowers everyone else, because you have more hands on deck," he said.

Mal Davies, chairman of the General Teaching Council for Wales, believes schools are appointing fewer deputies and enlarging their leadership teams, giving more people access to leadership experience.

However, he has concerns about how people are selected for NPQH training in Wales. And the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru believes fewer people are being accepted onto courses.

Director Anna Brychan said: "If this trend continues we will find it difficult to fill all the expected vacancies in five or six years' time."

But the Assembly government says there is a substantial pool of people willing and able to take on headship as older colleagues retire.

A spokeswoman said: "With a throughput of approximately 150-plus candidates per annum, it is predicted that there will be around 1,500 NPQH graduates in Wales by 2010. There are roughly 1,850 maintained schools in Wales at present."

Around 628 teachers already hold the NPQH, of which 197 are in headship posts, with another 200 in training.

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