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Poor heads 'blocking best staff'

Some of the best, most innovative primary teachers are being lost to the profession because of poor headteachers, according to research carried out at Warwick University.

The research has looked at teacher morale since 1988, and found that while teachers are affected by Government reforms and initiatives, the most important determinant of job satisfaction is likely to be the quality of head.

Linda Evans, who interviewed 25 primary teachers and the staff of four schools, believes the intellectual climate in many primaries does not encourage "extended professionals" - those who seek to be innovative or try to keep up with educational research. They feel undervalued by their head, and isolated from colleagues.

Ms Evans, co-director of Warwick University's Institute of Education Teacher Development, Research and Dissemination Unit, said that while the quality of headship was improving, there was still a backlog of the old guard. She believes teachers should have to gain a qualification before being allowed to apply for headships.

And while the Teacher Training Agency is going in the right direction, by devising a voluntary headteacher qualification, Ms Evans says this will not be enough.

She said: "The problem is also in the recruitment. Governors are still making some idiosyncratic decisions. The selection criteria used by some governors are dubious. Information sought from job applicants should seek to reveal professionalism and qualifications."

The study supports research carried out for The TES by Research Services Ltd using teacher focus groups, published earlier this month. The TES study found that a perceived loss of status, radical educational reforms, class sizes and more recently pensions, all affected teacher morale severely.

But paradoxically, according to the Warwick study, teachers who are working in a good school environment are more likely to be concerned by these matters.

For most teachers, it is the day-to-day realities of their working life, the daily grind that affects both their morale and job satisfaction. In primary schools especially, the head can be the greatest influence.

She said: "One problem often encountered is a mismatch between the outlook of a teacher and the overriding ideology - or lack of ideology - of the head. My research shows that staff who manifest characteristics of 'extended' professionalism are, to varying degrees, marginalised by their own educational philosophies and ideologies. It suggests too that the talents of such staff are being wasted and their qualities not recognised. This leads to frustration and they then leave for a job elsewhere."

In her paper, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness? The problems and constraints facing "extended" professionals in the English primary sector, to be published later this year, Ms Evans quotes one primary teacher as saying that her main dissatisfaction was that her head's leadership inadequately matched her own professionalism.

Another said: "I am intellectually lonely at school. I'm the only one who reads the Guardian, the only one interested in politics or literature and there is only one other who's ready to talk about music or art."

Teachers operate on different levels of professionalism, according to the research, and Ms Evans says this should be reflected in the career and pay structure.

"Some are happy to be led and others are happy to stay in the classroom and are not preoccupied with, for example, curriculum development. The different levels have their own value and this must be recognised. Part of the drive to raise the status of the profession should take into account teachers' different strengths and reward them appropriately," she said.

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