A pound;40,000 golden hello

National shortage of first-class candidates means schools are paying headhunters

A top-performing school offered a pound;40,000 signing-on bonus to a new headteacher after struggling to recruit for more than a year. So critical is the shortage of headteachers that some are being wooed with five-figure golden hellos and six-figure salaries.

The difficulties of Fortismere school in Muswell Hill, Haringey, north London,Jmake it clear thatJthe national shortage of heads is affecting successful as well as challenging schools. Heads may be reluctant to take on high-performing schools because they are more likely to slip back than to improve.

Fortismere offered pound;40,000 to Aydin Onac, a prizewinning pianist,Jto lure him from Tewkesbury school in Gloucestershire where he had been head for three years. The school's governorsJalso paid headhunters pound;10,000 to find Mr Onac.

Headhunters are also being paid up to pound;40,000 to fill posts in some secondaries. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has sought professional help to find principals for academies. And last year governors at David Young community academy in Leeds paid headhunters pound;40,000 to find a head.

Professor John Howson, a specialist in teacher recruitment, said luring top quality headteachers came at a price, especially if they had to face London house prices.

"There is a market price in education, as there is in other professions,"

he said. "I have heard of other golden hellos being paid, but not of this size. Being a high-performing school brings its own problems because they are looking for a proven track record."

Haringey council wrote toJFortismere's governors querying the size of the payment. The golden hello was revealed in a letter from Sharon Shoesmith, the director of children's services, to Jane Farrell, the chair of governors.

It read: "I would ask you to consider seriously whether you believe a payment of this magnitude is proper use of public money in accordance with your responsibilities. I have to say that I do not and, should you decide to proceed, this has to be in the knowledge that it is against my advice."

Mrs Farrell refused to confirm the amount paid to Mr Onac, but said it had exceeded the pound;8,000 tax-free relocation limit. Mr Onac who started at Fortismere last Easter, declined to comment.

"It is common for schools to offer a package to attract the right candidates," said Mrs Farrell. "We lost another candidate because the offer was not enough."

Fortismere parents complained that Mr Onac's golden hello had forced cuts in the school's special needs budget, but Mrs Farrell denied this.

The governors' offer was supported by the Association of School and College Leaders. Its general secretary, John Dunford, said: "Money cannot be spent in a more important way than to recruit a headteacher. It is legitimate because it is in the interests of the children."

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