Best teachers put off headship by target tyranny

19th November 2010 at 00:00
Barriers to top job much greater than elsewhere

Most of England's best teachers are deterred from becoming heads because of the pressures of targets, according to a survey of their own principals.

The demands of the top job are a much bigger barrier in this country than in other high-performing nations, according to the international research co-authored by management consultant McKinsey's Sir Michael Barber, formerly head of the Number 10 delivery unit.

Of the heads surveyed, 80 per cent of those in England said current accountability requirements were an obstacle to becoming a school leader.

This compares to just 44 per cent of high-performing heads in Ontario, 44 per cent in Alberta and 62 per cent in Singapore. The global average of heads who cited accountability requirements as a bar to leadership was 59 per cent.

Entitled Capturing the Leadership Premium, the McKinsey report set out to compare the efforts of different nations to solve succession-planning crises.

It concludes that other countries have more programmes than England to identify potential school leaders earlier on in their career.

Successful countries also have more flexible pay and conditions to make the role more attractive - in New York, for example, heads can earn as much as $200,000 a year. Schools are paid a bonus if their teachers end up as heads.

Speaking at the National College's National New Heads conference on Tuesday (16 November), education secretary Michael Gove said the forthcoming white paper will contain "system-wide reforms to take the education system to another level".

He said the changes would lead to the "best teaching workforce in the world" and the "best school leaders", as well as helping heads "recruit and retain the best teachers".

The Government will more than double the number of heads taking part in the National Leaders of Education programme from the current 393 to 1,000 by 2014.

There will also be "new incentives" for those responsible "for the most dramatic" improvements in performance, said Mr Gove.

The national professional qualification for headship (NPQH), which all new heads have to have by law, will be overhauled.

Mr Gove told the conference there would be a "shift in the culture of English education" if heads devoted more time to promoting the next generation of school leaders. He said they should look to practices around the globe instead of "inwards and backwards".

"They need to ask how well they are doing, not compared to the next borough, but compared to the best-performing places in the world," he said.

But National College deputy chief executive Toby Salt warned that reforms should not lead to successful teachers becoming heads too soon.

"Too much responsibility too soon can make the job seem like a superhuman burden," he said. "These people might not have the humility which is needed. They might see more experienced teachers as tired dinosaurs, when in fact they are just tired but still full of wisdom," he said.

"The boundless enthusiasm of this new young head might be the thing which is wearing them down."

Other findings: Shackled to their desks

- English heads spend 52 per cent of their time in their office - more than school leaders in high-profile regions regarded as having excellent education systems.

- In New York, heads spend 38 per cent of their time in an office. In Singapore the figure is 43 per cent, and in Alberta, Canada, it is 46 per cent. English heads spend 34 per cent of their time in school but not in the office, compared to 51 per cent in New York, 35 per cent in Singapore and 37 per cent in Alberta.

  • Original headline: Our best teachers put off headship by target tyranny

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