Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit headteachers, with nearly two out of five vacancies in inner London and one in three in Roman Catholic schools having to be re-advertised, according to a new survey.
The survey by Oxford Brookes University shows headteacher turnover in secondary schools has reached a six-year high and a five-year high in primary schools. The situation is worse in inner-city areas, for example in London and the West Midlands, but rural areas such as East Anglia are also experiencing problems.
The fatal stabbing of Philip Lawrence is an extreme case, but there is concern that the death of the London head could further hit recruitment to inner-city schools by highlighting the pressures teachers face. The vacancies are causing particular concern because the quality of a head is recognised as one of the most important factors in school performance.
The new figures come at a time when unions are also warning of a looming shortage of classroom teachers. The Government has already acknowledged the potential crisis by asking the teachers' pay review body, which reports later this month, to look at ways to reward teachers working in inner cities.
Anthea Millett, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, has described her task to increase the output of newly qualified teachers from 20,000 to 30,000 a year over the next five years as " very challenging".
For the 11th year, John Howson, senior lecturer at the school of education at Oxford Brookes University, has analysed TES job advertisements for heads.
"The situation is beginning to look worrying, especially in inner- London and church schools. Teacher recruitment has bottomed out in recent years and is now appearing to deteriorate," he said.
The report picks out a trend showing that while classroom shortages are greatest in secondary schools, the greatest difficulty recruiting heads is in the primary sector. Mr Howson believes this is because heads in secondary schools can negotiate better wages, but primary budgets are less flexible. Typically in a small primary, a head will be expected to take on extra responsibilities, as well as classroom teaching, and will earn less than Pounds 5,000 more than a top of scale teacher.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "An average primary head is paid about Pounds 27,000, and those in small schools earn about Pounds 25,000. This is not enough of an incentive when all the extra responsibilities and work involved is taken into account."
John Howson said: "Teaching has to be made an attractive job at all levels and in all parts of the country. For the past few years, the School Teachers' Review Body has failed to take market forces fully into account. It has also been complacent about recruitment data appearing to rely upon outdated statistics from Government sources rather than up-to-the-minute management information."
The report also says governors can make the job of recruiting a head more complicated that it need be: "The advent of local management in schools and the decline in responsibilities of the local education authorities have meant that many governing bodies are unaware of market conditions and may have exaggerated expectations of the headteacher they would like to see for their school. "
The sluggish housing market may have also contributed, especially for recruitment of heads in Catholic schools where a candidate is more likely to have to move some distance to take up a new post. Some teachers are also put off because they fear "excessive meddling" from parish priests.
Russell Clarke, Secondary Heads' Association assistant secretary, said: "There are a lot of high-calibre deputy heads, so I am surprised to hear schools are having difficulties. However, the extra stresses accompanying the job may put people off. The death of Philip Lawrence will not have helped, especially in inner-city schools."
At last week's North of England conference, Anthea Millett warned about the difficulties of recruitment at all levels to meet Government targets over the next five years. The TTA is planning to increase the number of trainee teachers from present levels by 50 per cent in secondary schools and 34 per cent in primary, because of the number of teachers approaching retirement and increased pupil numbers.
She said research data has shown that teaching is regarded as a high-status profession, but only 17 per cent of those questioned thought it was an occupation likely to offer good career development. The TTA is looking at ways to boost teacher numbers without reducing the quality of candidates, and from autumn will be setting up fellowships for teachers who will look at ways to solve the recruitment problem.