Heads forced to quit

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Ofsted must stop treating scarce school leaders as throw-away items warn unions

Hundreds of headteachers are being driven out of the profession by Ofsted, union leaders said this week. Many cannot talk publicly about their resignation because gagging clauses have been inserted in their contracts but The TES has found mounting evidence of heads being forced out.

Heads' unions said government threats to close failing schools within a year would fuel the exodus of highly-trained heads and add to the feeling that school leaders were increasingly disposable.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The Ofsted inspection framework has put enormous pressure on headteachers.

The process should be about helping them to improve, not hanging them out to dry."

One in five schools already fails to fill the top job, research for SHA and National Association of Head Teachers shows.

A second study into head recruitment from the NAHT and the National College for School Leadership, published this week, reinforced fears of a shortage, showing that 60 per cent of headteachers are due to retire by 2009 in one shire county.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, this week confirmed plans first revealed in The TES that schools which fail to improve after a year could be reopened under new leadership, merged with a neighbour or turned into an academy from next year.

Latest figures from Ofsted show that there are 285 schools in special measures and a further 295 with serious weaknesses.

John Howson, recruitment analyst, said "more often than not" special measures would result in the head leaving. He said secondaries were now having to offer six-figure salaries to recruit heads.

"No one goes into such a post without realising the risks," said Professor Howson.

Tony Brookes, a head with 13 years' experience, resigned after his school, Thorne grammar, near Doncaster, was said to be suffering serious weaknesses.

He won an apology from Ofsted over the way the original inspection was carried out and the 57-year-old is now working as a science teacher in Leeds.

"Effectively the inspection finished off my career," he said this week.

The Ofsted report on Thorne grammar led to an exodus of staff, forced the school to turn to overseas teachers and saw the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs fall from 34 to 22 per cent in two years.

Weeks after Dr Brookes quit in 2002, the local council announced the school would be turned into an academy, sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, the evangelical Christian car dealer.

In March, Robert Kenney, head at Holgate comprehensive, Nottinghamshire, quit after disputing Ofsted's decision to impose special measures. Last month 46 per cent of pupils at the school gained five good GCSEs.

Last year Karen Todd resigned from Stretford high, Manchester, but then lodged an official complaint with Ofsted, saying that inspection contractors, who concluded the school was failing, made inappropriate comments to staff and did not consider all the evidence.

Mr Dunford said: "Ruth Kelly's proposals will create additional pressure on heads who are already feeling increasingly disposable when a school goes into special measures."

Ofsted denied it was forcing heads out, though David Bell, chief inspector, said he supported the stance taken by Ms Kelly. "Ofsted's evidence over the years would suggest that if no progress has been made after one year in a failing school, it is unlikely to happen at all" he said.

Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary, said: "The subliminal message is that teachers and headteachers are doing a bad job, therefore we will recruit from outside."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

NEWS 6, 17

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