Farewell to deputy heads:You're a vanishing species

14th November 1997 at 00:00
The Nineties have seen 4,000 deputies disappear, increasing stress on other staff. Neil Merrick examines the reasons

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 In some cases a deputy has been replaced by a non-teaching manager or bursar with responsibility for finance.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 Pounds 34,000 may earn only Pounds 2,000-Pounds 3,000 more than a senior manager or head of department. Primary deputies, who earn about Pounds 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."


When Jenny Lee was appointed deputy head of Whitegate End Primary School in Oldham, the deputy of the school where she was teaching offered to act as a mentor during the term before she left.

"She gave me plenty of opportunities to work alongside her," recalls Ms Lee, who moved to Whitegate seven years ago and is now taking the NPQH before applying for her first headship.

Most aspiring deputies still rely on individual initiatives. "Training is definitely something which is missing," she added. "There should be programmes for teachers hoping to become deputies and those who have already been appointed."

Whitegate End is a 290-pupil primary for 4 to 11-year-olds. Ms Lee, who started teaching in 1975, is the only deputy. She has a full teaching timetable four days a week but devotes Friday to management issues such as finance, staff development, curriculum and strategic leadership.

She admits that she is more fortunate than most primary deputies. "It's not like a secondary school where some deputies only have a 40 per cent teaching timetable, but I know a lot of primary deputies only have half and hour or one session a week of non-teaching time."

Ms Lee, who was a member of the senior management team at her previous school, applied to be a deputy so that she could take on a wider range of responsibilities. "I wanted to work more with other staff. You also have the legal responsibility of covering for the head in their absence."

In spite of the fact that she plays a full management role and takes many decisions without consulting her head, she stresses that the two work in partnership. "The role of the deputy is very important. You are the only person in the school with the same terms and conditions as the head and therefore you become a sounding board for them."


During her seven years as a deputy at Lings Upper School in Northampton, Carolyn Brawn has experienced the full range of management issues.

Until three years ago, she was responsible for pastoral care and staff development. Following a job rotation with the school's other deputy, she has now inherited curriculum issues, timetabling and exams.

Mrs Brawn, who is taking the new professional qualification before applying for headships, said the way in which her role has changed has increased her job satisfaction.

"It's been excellent. If I don't get a headship I would be happy to continue as a deputy. There are so many things that you can branch into and the opportunity to rotate brings extra benefits."

Lings Upper School has 540 pupils aged 13-18. Mrs Brawn teaches 15 out of 30 periods a week, including taking a GNVQ class in health and social care. The rest of the week is spent on management and administration - the school has just had a new computer system installed - as well as observing other staff and talking to students.

She meets the school's headteacher and the other deputy, who is in charge of finance and development planning, at least twice a week. Since the rotation, the two deputies share pastoral and staff development issues.

"The three of us work very much as a team, " Mrs Brawn stressed. "We meet to discuss joint issues and share our experiences."

Before her promotion, Mrs Brawn was head of science and technology at another school: "I wanted to progress. It was a matter of self-fulfilment to become a deputy and take on a whole-school function." Her previous school paid for her to attend a two-term course preparing her for deputy headship.

In Northamptonshire, a deputy heads group arranges regular seminars and other activities that are open to senior staff. "Things are not too bad in this county," she said. "We actually provide aspiring deputies with an insight. "


* 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 agoa typical primary school could have expected to receive 23 applicationsfor 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 get11 or 12.

* Unfilled vacanciesfor 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 74two years ago and 87 in the mid-1980s.

* There were 40 unfilled secondary deputy vacancies recordedby the Department for Education and Employment in 1995 compared with 46in 1997.

* The proportion of female deputy headteachers has increased in the past five years, thoughthe total number of deputies has fallen.

* In primary schools inEngland and Wales the number of female deputies fell by 3 per cent, although theynow account for 70.4 per cent compared with 66. 9 per centin 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 centlast year.

* Primary deputies work longer hours (55.9week) than heads (55.3) orclass teachers (51.6). Secondary deputies work 56.9 hours, fewer than headteachers (61) but more than class teachers (50.2)

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