Most depute heads ‘not keen’ on headteacher posts

Heads' union warns that the job is increasingly unattractive, and many deputes don’t want it

Emma Seith

Bulk of deputes say they’re ‘not keen’ on headship

A new survey has revealed that 60 per cent of depute heads disagree with the statement “I am keen to become a headteacher”.

By next year all new state-school headteachers in Scotland will have to hold a mandatory masters-level qualification – yet the survey by primary school leaders' body AHDS suggests that the top job in school is already proving increasingly unpopular.

Just 20 per cent said they wanted to become a head, with a further 20 per cent ambivalent and neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the statement.

In 2016, when deputes were asked the same question, they were more enthusiastic, with 36 per cent saying they were keen to become a head and fewer than half (48 per cent) saying they were not “keen”.


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The figures also show that just 16 per cent of principal teachers agree with the statement “I am keen to become a headteacher”, down from 38 per cent in 2016. Meanwhile, 64 per cent disagreed with the statement, up from 49 per cent in 2016.

The figures are based on a survey of over 1,000 promoted primary school staff – including 313 depute headteachers and 89 principal teachers – carried out by AHDS. It has come to light as the Scottish government continues to progress its plans to make the masters-level Into headship qualification, which takes around 18 months to complete and will be compulsory for all new heads from August 2020.

The qualification could turn more people off headship, AHDS is warning, unless the government provides protected study time for those who embark on it.

AHDS general secretary Greg Dempster said: “The feedback from people who have done Into Headship is really positive about the value of it and their confidence levels going for headship as a result, but workload is a huge problem. So if you have to do a qualification on top of the day job – that’s the problem.

“What the survey tells us is that we should not seek to change Into Headship, but we need to sort out working conditions and ensure those undertaking the qualification are given adequate release time. We also need to look at the management time primary school leaders have generally because at the moment there are more demands being made of staff than there are resources.”

The AHDS survey showed that 77 per cent of those who had completed Into Headship thought it had provided a good preparation for becoming a head, but fewer than half (46 per cent) agreed the workload was manageable.  

The average reported weekly hours for primary school leaders have dropped a little for all roles this year but remain around 20 hours above the contracted 35 hour week, with headteachers reporting that they work an average of 55 hours per week.

More management time was identified by the school leaders as being the change that would make the biggest impact when it came to making their jobs manageable, followed by reduction in paperwork and bureaucracy, and no longer having to cover colleagues’ classes.

The difficulty schools are having supporting pupils with additional support needs and with “pupil violence” was also highlighted. In 2016, "proper support for inclusion" was seventh on the list of priorities for school leaders, but it jumped to fourth place in 2017 and remained there this year.

Mr Dempster continued: “Heads and deputes are routinely having to support individual pupils because they don’t have the right resources for them. The number of pupils with additional support needs is rising at the same time as the resource to support them is falling. Management teams take on the job of supporting these pupils so that the classroom teacher is able to carry on for the rest of the class.”

Education sectary John Swinney – speaking at yesterday’s Education and Skills Committee at the Scottish Parliament, where the result of the AHDS survey were first alluded to – said there was a need to address the survey “substantively”.

He added that plans were underway to work with the professional associations to tackle workload.

Mr Swinney said: “I want to embrace the professional associations as partners in trying to address what can we collaboratively and constructively do to tackle the workload issue.”

He also added that the gap between classroom teacher and headteacher would be bridged by the introduction of more career development opportunities and that other supports had been put in place to “enhance the professional development of individuals that will help them to be more confident in taking on such roles”.

He said: “We will shortly be receiving the recommendations from the panel on career pathways that Moyra Boland from the University of Glasgow has been leading for us. What that is going to give us is some more career development opportunities that will break down that gap that exists that I accept for some people is a very big gap to contemplate – even from a depute to a headteacher is quite a big gap.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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