The survey of 680 schools found 148 deputy posts were eliminated in 138 schools and sixth-form colleges. More than 5 per cent of the largest secondary schools now employ just one deputy head, although under regulations which were scrapped in 1992, schools in groups five and six had to employ at least two. Most of the posts have been eliminated in local authority schools - the survey shows a quarter of LEA schools have shed at least one deputy head compared with just one in 20 grant-maintained schools.
SHA did not ask schools to specify why a deputy's post had been eliminated or whether the postholder had been replaced by a non-teacher. David Hancock, the association's salaries and conditions of service officer, says many schools have cut the number of deputies in response to budget pressures.
"Often a deputy is about to retire and the school takes the opportunity to distribute his management functions to a number of people," he says. "Many schools are caught between a rock and a hard place. Either they reduce the number of deputies or they get rid of classroom teachers and risk increasing the pupil-teacher ratio."
The comparatively small number of deputy headships eliminated by GM schools suggests that either their budgets are not as tight or they believe their new status requires a greater number of senior managers. "It's not surprising that they won't go in for reductions at a time of expansion," says Mr Hancock. "The test will come over five or six years when their funding gets tighter."
Schools are known to have used a deputy's retirement to restructure their management team. Some have followed the example set by industry and introduced flatter management structures beneath the head.
The SHA survey shows most of the posts were eliminated in group five schools, the most common group size for secondary schools with typically between 800 and 1,500 pupils. Seventy-seven deputy posts were shed in LEA schools in group five; six schools lost two deputies by reducing the number of posts from three to one. Sixteen schools reduced their number of deputy headships from two to one, while 49 schools had cut their total from three to two.
Within group six, 19 LEA schools had reduced the number of posts from three to two one, while two schools had cut their total from two to one. This means 24 LEA schools in groups five or six - 6.2 per cent of the LEA schools surveyed from these two groups - now have just one deputy.
In each case, the reduction has been made since the regulations stating minimum numbers of deputies were scrapped. SHA and other unions have unsuccessfully urged the School Teachers' Review Body to recommend the reintroduction of a minimum number of deputies based on the size of a school.
A school's group size is determined by its unit total, which is derived by calculating the number of pupils on roll in each age group. Pupils aged 14 and under are worth two units while those in Year 10 are worth four units. In Year 11, pupils are worth five units, while sixth-formers are worth seven units in Year 12 and nine units in Year 13. Schools in group five have unit totals of between 2,400 and 4,600.
Just five LEA secondary schools in group three had reduced the number of deputy posts, including four schools which had cut from three to one. Five GM schools, two in group four and three in group five, had got rid of one deputy while nine sixth-form colleges had shed a vice-principal.
Further research by the National Association of Head Teachers confirms that both primary and secondary schools are employing fewer deputies.
The number taking premature retirement virtually doubled from 421 in 1990-91 to 834 in 1993-94. Where the deputy's post is being eliminated, the postholder will normally be made redundant.
In 1990-91, just 29 deputies took premature retirement on the grounds of redundancy. By last year this figure had risen to 316.
Kerry George, the NAHT's assistant secretary for salaries, says many of the redundancies followed mergers of primary and middle schools. "We think deputies are being got rid of in a fairly mindless fashion," she says. "Instead of employing as many deputies as they want, governors tend to delete one post. "
Some primaries were managing without a deputy or filling the position with a teacher on the equivalent of an old A allowance. "Deputies are not wildly expensive to employ, but the perception is that they are."
David Hancock said SHA is concerned at the number of posts disappearing. "The Government says it is up to governors. It's a local management decision. "
The steady reduction in the number of deputies was, however, gradually eroding the quality of leadership in schools.
"You are reducing the pool of people with management experience from which you can appoint future heads. That in turn reduces the degree of choice and competition for headships when they become vacant."
Overall, 11 per cent of schools surveyed by SHA had one deputy head, just over half (52 per cent) had two deputies and 36 per cent had three. Four of the 680 schools had four deputy heads.