Deputy heads are a dying breed. There are fewer jobs available and fewer people want the job, it seems. And it is this shortage of potential heads that is causing the Department for Education and Employment great concern.
The dearth of deputies is also increasing the pressure on other school managers, yet there seems little official interest in improving the training for the less experienced members of the senior management team.
"Deputies are the most insecure group of people in the whole teaching profession," said John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "A lot of good people have gone out of the profession because their posts have disappeared."
Many secondary schools that previously had up to four deputies have shed posts. In some cases a deputy has been replaced by a non-teaching manager or bursar with responsibility for finance. Other schools have scrapped the post completely and introduced flatter management structures, possibly including a tier of assistant heads.
Peter Miller, deputy of Wrenn School in Wellingborough and a former SHA president, said deputy posts had disappeared largely for financial reasons rather than changes in management style. "Most schools that have cut deputies report severe stress and strain on other staff," he said.
This year the two heads associations have again asked the School Teachers Review Body to recommend a reversal of the government's 1992 decision which made it optional for schools to employ deputies. The review body has so far resisted any return to a mandatory deputy post. In its 1997 report, which included the results of a fact-finding study into the role of deputies, it concluded: "There are strong grounds for leaving the responsibility with schools to decide the management structures which best meet their needs".
The decline in applications for deputy headships can be partly explained by the age profile of the teaching profession. Most staff consider a deputy headship in their late thirties after about 15 years in teaching but, during the early Eighties, the recruitment of new teachers declined in line with a drop in pupil numbers.
Pay is also a factor. A secondary deputy on #163;34, 000 may earn only #163;2,000-#163;3,000 more than a senior manager or head of department. Primary deputies, who earn about #163;26,000, may also ask whether the extra money is worth the workload and pressures. Salary considerations will depend upon the reason for applying. If the job is seen as a stepping stone to headship, applicants may not mind the relatively small raise in salary. Those who expect to be deputies for the rest of their careers, may wonder whether it is worth the extra responsibility.
The professional associations are also concerned about how little training deputies receive before and after they are appointed. While the Teacher Training Agency has drawn up complex training for most teachers, including the new National Professional Qualification for Headship, aspiring deputies have so far been overlooked.
The Secondary Heads Association runs its own competency-based training programme for deputies which, according to the association, is one of the most popular programmes it offers. But, said Peter Miller, not all prospective deputies can afford to pay for their training or persuade the school that they are planning to leave to fund it.
"The TTA is aware that the modern way of running a school is to have an integrated team, but it is concentrating on preparing for headship," he said. "It doesn't appear to have any plans to introduce training for deputies. If you don't have teachers becoming deputies, you won't have the people willing to make the next move into headship."
How deputy headteacher posts have disappeared
- More than 4,000 deputy posts in England and Wales have disappeared since the early Nineties and fewer people are applying for those deputy headships that are still available.
- The most dramatic changes have occurred in secondary schools where the number of deputies has dropped from 10,100 to 7,600, (25 per cent) since 1991, largely as a result of changes to management structures and the squeezing of school budgets.
- Primary schools have lost 1,600 deputy posts (8 per cent), many as a result of the amalgamation of infant and junior schools.
- There are 17,200 primary deputies but more than 20,000 primary schools in England and Wales, so almost one in six has no deputy.
- Ten years ago a typical primary school could have expected to receive 23 applications for a vacant deputy's post; today, according to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, a small to medium sized primary will probably only get 11 or 12.
- Unfilled vacancies for primary deputies have risen from 169 in 1995 to 228 in 1997.
- The average number of applications for a vacant deputy headship in a group five school is 49 compared with 74 two years ago and 87 in the mid-1980s.
- There were 40 unfilled secondary deputy vacancies recorded by the Department for Education and Employment in 1995 compared with 46
z The proportion of female deputy headteachers has increased in the past five years, though the total number of deputies has fallen. - In primary schools in England and Wales the number of female deputies fell by 3 per cent, although they now account for 70.4 per cent compared with 66.9 per cent in 1992. The percentage of male classroom teachers remained steady at around 12 per cent.
- In secondary schools, the numbers of women deputies fell by18 per cent, although the proportion of female deputies rose from 33.9 per cent in 1992 to 34.5 per cent last year.
- Primary deputies work longer hours (55.9week) than heads (55.3) or
class teachers (51.6). Secondary deputies work 56.9 hours, fewer than headteachers (61) but more than class teachers (50.2)