Editor's comment

6th November 2009 at 00:00

The research report on the recruitment and retention of headteachers in Scotland (pages 1 and 5) makes depressing reading - for national government, for local authorities and, not least, for heads themselves. Of course, we should not take an insular view: education cannot be the only profession where life is tough at the top, and Scottish education is not unique in having to deal with the issue of how to make headship more attractive.

It has to be a major worry, however, that the job is so unattractive: 8 per cent of teachers aspiring to headship is not the mark of an aspirational profession. It contrasts sharply with the sense of confidence, enterprise and ambition which teachers are supposed to be instilling in their pupils.

There are lessons in this report for national and local policy-makers, chief of which has to be giving headteachers autonomy on a variety of levels. The rhetoric of the unfolding curriculum and the new inspection regime is that this is exactly what is supposed to happen. But reality and perception appear to point in the other direction. For example, although "light touch" inspections were not fully into their stride when this study was being carried out, it must be of concern that 60 per cent of heads find inspection a less than positive experience.

But perception must start at home. The report makes the point that headteachers can be their own worst enemies, talking down a job which often comes with self-imposed pressures characterised by too much operational management and not enough strategic leadership. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that so few teachers want to follow in their footsteps. Heads may feel they lack the power to do their job properly, but what is perhaps more important is that they share the power they do have more effectively and concentrate on leadership rather than management.

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