Devil of a job to find angels

24th January 2003 at 00:00
Teachers are ruling themselves out of applying for church school headships for fear of not being sufficiently pious. Anat Arkin reports.

ROMAN Catholic schools, already struggling to fill headteacher posts, face a worsening recruitment crisis as the church continues to insist on appointing only practising Catholics to run its schools.

The number of schools forced to re-advertise headteachers' jobs - in some case two or even three times - has been rising steadily for the past five years. The latest annual survey of senior management vacancies by John Howson of Education Data Surveys shows that while 44 per cent of RC schools re-advertised for heads in 199798, the figure for the 200102 school year was 58 per cent. This compares to 24 per cent for community schools (TES, January 10).

An earlier survey carried out by Professor Howson for the two main headteachers' associations shows that behind the record-breaking re-advertisement rate lies a shrinking pool of applicants. RC secondary schools received on average just 9.6 applications for headteacher posts last year. The average for foundation and community schools was 17.6 and 18.5 applications respectively. The situation in the primary sector was even worse, with RC schools receiving on average 3.16 applications - less than half the number for community schools.

John McNally, head of St Bernadette's RC school in Birmingham, and a member of the National Association of Head Teachers' council, said: "I suspect that some people feel they should not be looking for promotion if they are not regular churchgoers."

Others are put off applying for headships by the knowledge that their private lives will come under close scrutiny from governing bodies which are usually chaired by parish priests. Governors of many RC schools refuse to appoint divorcees or people who are cohabiting with their partners, as well as those who are not regular churchgoers. That rules out large numbers of potential applicants.

With religious observance declining in the Catholic community as it is in society as a whole, Mr McNally warned that it could become even more difficult to recruit people to run RC schools in future. "We need to take a long, hard look at those things that might be dissuading people in middle management from applying for further promotion," he said.

But there seems to be little prospect of the church authorities changing their selection criteria. "The Catholic Church is at a loss to understand how a school whose ethos is to educate the child in the image of Christ and in keeping with the teachings of the Gospel could be led by a head who did not personally follow the same teachings," said Oona Stannard, director of the Catholic Education Service.

Re-advertisement rates for Anglican schools were also up - from 32 per cent in 200001 to 41 per cent last year. But the Church of England denied that its 4,700 schools - all but around 200 of which are primaries - are facing a worse headteacher recruitment crisis than comparable community schools.

According to a spokesman for the church's board of education, governors of Anglican schools want to make sure they appoint the right people to headships.

"If that means re-advertising, they are not afraid to do it," he said.

Voluntary-aided C of E schools will often appoint only committed Christians, though not necessarily Anglicans, as headteachers. A voluntary-controlled school, on the other hand, where the church does not have a majority on the governing body, cannot apply similar criteria, and so can look to a wider pool of potential applicants.

Pointing to an ICM poll which found that 55 per cent of the population see themselves as members of the C of E, and 80 per cent as Christians, Canon John Hall, the Church's chief education officer, said: "There is a large number of teachers and potential heads who regard themselves as able to do what the law requires for a voluntary-controlled school, which is to preserve its religious character."

Yet Anglican schools last year received on average just 4.93 applications for headteacher posts, which was certainly more than their RC counterparts but considerably less than community schools. John Howson puts this down mainly to the large proportion of Anglican schools that are small rural primaries that cannot offer heads rewards to match their workloads.

To encourage more teachers to apply for headships and prepare them for these roles, eight dioceses piloted a course last year for deputy heads of C of E schools. Of the 15 deputies who took this course, which was funded and monitored by the National College for School Leadership, five are now heads.

The Catholic Church is developing similar programmes, not only in England and Wales, but also in Scotland, where there is also evidence of teachers'

declining interest in becoming heads. John Oates, national field officer for the Catholic Education Commission, said this problem does not affect Scotland's RC schools any more than other schools. But he acknowledged that more needs to be done to support aspiring heads of church schools.

"We tend to provide headteachers with support when they are in post but not so much by way of preparation for taking up these posts," he said. "So we are now addressing that issue."

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