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No one needs headship hassle

The revelation by the General Teaching Council for England that a third of teachers expect to leave the profession in the next five years was worrying enough. But a further "one in three" statistic revealed this week may be even more significant. An unprecedented one in three primary schools with vacant headships this year had so few applicants that they had to readvertise (page 2).

The numbers of younger teachers disillusioned with the profession underlines the importance of achieving a real reduction in teachers'

workloads and doing more to raise morale.

It is true enough that many remain committed to and enthusiastic about their work and that at least half of those planning to quit are approaching retirement age. But for many that means early-retirement age. One in three (again) of those retiring from teaching do so prematurely - a waste of experience, stability and continuity schools can no longer afford.

As ministers repeatedly acknowledge, so much depends upon effective leadership. Yet where once schools received hundreds of applications for a headship, now many receive only a handful - or none at all.

The reasons so many now avoid the top job, or leave the profession as soon as they can, are not hard to fathom. Money is a factor for young teachers struggling to get on the housing ladder. But many others are simply fed up with escalating expectations and the daily experience of having their professionalism denigrated and denied by ministers, officials, inspectors, governors and parents with little or no current classroom experience; fed up with hearing on the Today programme day after day what miracle they are expected to perform next or what economic or social failure they are being blamed for.

Charles Clarke promises fewer instructions and guidelines. Meanwhile, his junior minister Stephen Twigg writes to "congratulate" all primary heads this week in a letter containing eight new government initiatives, three complaints about underperformance, one barely veiled threat and an exhortation to do better in 2003 - with a copy to the chair of governors. Little wonder no one wants the job.

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