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Superheads under fire

Private schools that do not want to share headteachers are causing controversy

A System of superheads running more than one school will not solve the leadership crisis in the independent sector, the president of the Girls'

Schools Association will tell its annual conference.

Brenda Despontin will compare executive heads running a federation of schools to regional managers of supermarkets who do not know their customers and barely know their staff.

Dr Despontin told The TES, previewing next week's conference in Cardiff: "A head going between six schools would find it immensely difficult to do the job as we know it in the independent sector. I can never see parents buying into that. Parents and pupils expect a figurehead, somebody who devotes their time to one school.

"Schools are complex communities, each with its own individual, unique character that flourish with an accessible leader. A regional manager touring a range of similar supermarkets is not the role fee-paying parents expect of a head." The superhead model is one solution being considered by the Government to help combat the lack of headteachers.

It will be made easier when the education Bill becomes law, paving the way for groups of schools to work together as a single trust. Dr Despontin, who is head of the pound;9,351 a year Haberdashers' Monmouth school for girls, admits urgent action is needed to turn teachers into leaders. During her year as president of the association, which represents some of the biggest girls-only private schools in the country, she piloted a scheme for deputy heads to shadow heads in other schools. Twelve schools have taken part in the experiment. Nicola Walker, deputy head of Dr Despontin's school, was one of the first to take part when she spent time at the Godolphin and Latimer school, in Hammersmith, west London. She said: "It was an excellent chance to see a head at work in a different environment. It also gives you time to reflect on the kinds of skills you have and need to develop."

Figures for 2005 show more than 2,600 state and private schools in England and Wales advertised for a head. Thirty six per cent of secondary schools had to re-advertise, an increase of 27 per cent in 2004. Dr Despontin warned against any moves to bring in leaders from industry to fill the positions.

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