New heads frightened by challenge of top job

MOST headteachers say they went into the job barely prepared for the challenges with one in 10 feeling "frightened" by the responsibility.

The finding comes in an analysis of the largest-ever survey of heads'

opinions about their jobs.

One primary head confessed: "This is a very lonely, isolated, crisis-driven and stressful job. I get support from my colleagues in school, but I should really be giving them support." Another admitted: "There is nothing more frightening than finding yourself alone in your office the week before your first term and realising you haven't got a clue about what being a headteacher is about."

These are far from one-off views, the survey of 1,405 serving heads in England led by Trevor Male of Hull University, reveals. Asked to grade their state of readiness for headship on a four-point scale, heads across all schools on average said they were not adequately prepared. Women were slightly more likely to feel prepared.

The study gives some insight into the feelings of the 1,200 new heads who took up post this month.

"Many respondents were not prepared for the rigours of headship," says the study. "The implications for the education of children and the leadership of schools in such circumstances are worrying."

The study reveals that the skills needed for headship tend to be learned on the job, rather than through training. The most popular suggestion for improving heads' preparedness was mentoring. But the study says this was not on offer unless a "progressive incumbent headteacher managed the process out of a sense of altruism or professional responsibility".

The study is a fresh analysis of data collected in a national survey of heads in 1999. Heads, some with years of experience, were asked to look back to their first days in the job and ministers may argue that things have improved since.

There is evidence that ministers are on the right track Although only 4 per cent of heads had the National Professional Qualification for Headship, they were significantly better prepared. NPQH is mandatory for new heads from 2004.

The initial study was done by serving heads Tim Bright and Nick Ware, supported by the National College for School Leadership.

Mr Male praised the college's for setting out a development framework for school leadership but said there were still weaknesses in NPQH.

"Professional socialisation of headteachers in England: further findings from the national headteacher survey", by Trevor Male. Email tmalehull@aoc.com

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