Last week primary headteachers were told of their extra pay rise - but did they deserve it? Much depends upon the motives behind the Government's move.
There has been concern about the shortage of headteachers for some time. On the one hand, the Government has wanted to amake the post of classroom teacher more attractive; hence the development of the advanced skills or superteacher grade. On the other hand, suitable applicants must be found to lead the schools.
In the past three years, recruiting heads has become a serious problem in the primary sector as the rising number of re-advertisements has demonstrated.
Following last year's report, management consultants KPMG were commissioned by the teachers' pay review body to look at heads and deputies. They explored what differentiated the roles of heads, deputies and other teachers with senior management responsibilities. Curiously, they didn't look in detail at the teaching load many heads of small schools carry in addition to their leadership role.
Two factors that have adversely affected heads of primary schools are the rise in class sizes, particularly at key stage 2, and the introduction of national tests and baseline assessment.
Both these measures affect all primary heads to some degree, but those in charge of small schools have been forced to cope with them at a time when funding per pupil has been falling in real terms. These heads are more likely to have to spend a greater proportion of the week teaching, assessing work or preparing lessons.
As the graph makes clear, this is not the first time that heads have received pay rises in excess of those for classroom teachers. In both 1989 and 1991, heads and deputies received larger rises than teachers did.
Following these pay rises, the number of posts needing to be re-advertised fell sharply to under half the present level.
Some of the difficulties in finding heads in 1997-98 resulted from the exodus of senior staff after the early-retirement rule changes. However, the role of a primary head has become steadily less attractive to many teachers.
With almost 37,000 primary teachers holding either a deputy or a head post, according to the pay review body, clearly this could not be allowed to continue.
Nevertheless, these are not the only vacancies in primary schools. It remains to be seen whether it is rates of pay or the Government training targets that are responsible for the current shortages of primary classroom teachers, especially in London.
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brooks University and runs an education research company.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org