Clock's ticking on heads crisis

19th September 2008 at 01:00

Five years ago there were 62 headteachers in their early sixties in Wales. Now there are 132, five of whom are over 65.

Much has been made of the recruitment troubles facing headship throughout the UK. But these figures - the latest from the General Teaching Council for Wales - show that we are on the verge of something much deeper - a retirement crisis. All the indications are that there is neither the will, nor the funding, to tackle it.

Headship has become an increasingly daunting prospect. The job is changing beyond all recognition, but the infrastructure to support the role in Wales is not meeting the challenge.

Writing in today's TES Cymru, Professor Alma Harris, a leadership expert at the Institute of Education in London, sees two problems: the first is the ageing headteacher population; the second is a general reluctance to adapt to new leadership styles.

As the role of headteacher becomes increasingly labour-intensive, "distributive leadership" is the only way forward. The era of the all- powerful head is now "old school", as the role has expanded to become too much for one person.

But Wales, despite now having access to fast-track headship schemes, has been slow to address the problems compared with England. And the clock is ticking.

Jane Hutt, the education minister, is aware of the problem. She knows that age, not recruitment, is the main issue. Only 22 per cent of headteacher vacancies in Wales were not filled at the last count - far fewer than in England - and most of these empty posts were at Welsh-medium schools, where the problem is more pronounced.

But if all our heads in their sixties decided to retire at the end of this academic year, where would that leave us? All the indications are that local authorities would have real trouble finding not only able candidates, but people willing to put in such long hours often for pay similar to what they already receive.

In a recent interview with TES Cymru, Ms Hutt promised more money to train more heads. But is it too late? We can only hope more heads stay on past 65 before drawing their well-earned pensions.

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