No one could say that headteachers get an easy life. They have to deal with governors, teachers, parents, pupils, LEA officials, accountants, and journalists. Quite a juggling act. Throw DfES initiatives, inspections and league tables into the mix and it's easy to see why many heads work a 70-hour week. Despite all this, Ofsted says our schools are better led today than they have ever been, with 40 per cent of primaries and 47 per cent of secondaries enjoying very good or excellent leadership. And the requirement for new heads to have a national qualification should mean standards continue to rise. A golden age of headship? Perhaps. But with half of all heads approaching retirement, and schools finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new leaders, there may be bumpier times ahead.
Recruiting headteachers isn't easy. This year's annual report by Education Data Surveys on the appointment of heads says that the labour market is in a "state of crisis".
Of the 2,125 primary headships advertised, 37 per cent had to be readvertised for lack of a suitable applicant - sometimes for lack of any applicant at all. That compares with 15 per cent in 199394. Of the 418 headships advertised in the secondary sector, 27 per cent had to be readvertised, compared with 15 per cent in 199394.
Professor John Howson, author of the report, says many schools end up spending considerable sums on advertisements, or to actively headhunt potential recruits. But, he adds, compared to the cost of making the wrong appointment or of an extended period without a head, most feel it's a necessary expenditure. "One grade 3 primary advertised three times," he says. "The first time they got zero applicants, the next time they got two applicants, and finally they got four applicants, but only after writing personal letters to deputies in the area who they thought would be suitable candidates."
Recruitment is a particular problem in three types of school: small primaries, where salaries are less attractive; inner city secondaries, which are perceived as challenging or hard work; and faith schools, which usually seek to appoint a practising member of their faith, so have a smaller pool of potential recruits. Schools in Wales and Scotland have fewer problems finding new heads. London, on the other hand, struggles - largely because deputies from other parts of the UK are put off by the higher cost of housing.
Things can only get worse?
Up to 50 per cent of heads are expected to retire in the next decade - a situation the NCSL refers to as a "demographic time-bomb". Last year, 10 per cent of secondary schools appointed a new head, a higher percentage than a decade ago. "It suggests that heads are spending less time in post,"
says Professor Howson, who warns of a possible surge in early retirement over the next few years as a result of the workload brought about by Government initiatives. "The recruitment crisis is likely to get worse, and will probably peak somewhere between 2008 and 2010," he says.
The requirement for new heads to hold the NPQH could actually be contributing to the problem, with some deputies put off doing the programme for fear of adding to an already hectic schedule.
Defusing the bomb
The NCSL believes that problems posed by the unfavourable demographic can be overcome by "succession planning". According to their research, 60 per cent of subject heads and deputies say their career aim is to become a headteacher. With around 250,000 of these "middle leaders" across UK schools, that's a sizeable number of aspiring heads.
Succession planning encourages existing heads to identify members of staff with leadership potential, and then to give them the earliest possible opportunity to be involved in decision making and strategic planning. It may mean subject heads, for example, being offered a taste of the responsibilities normally associated with senior managers. "It's about creating a wide pool of talent, rather than a narrow pipeline," says Martin Coles, the NCSL's assistant director of research.
But is it in a school's best interests to prepare their most talented staff for leadership, when it may result in them moving on and having to be replaced?
"Some schools may think like that," says Mr Coles. "But if a school gets a reputation as a breeding ground for future heads, it will attract high quality staff who will see that moving there can accelerate their careers."
Professor Howson suggests schools could take the idea of succession planning a stage further, by training up potential leaders and then appointing from within. "It's what big companies do," he says. "When a bank wants a new manager, they don't look to another bank to provide it.
They bring people on, and then appoint internally. If this were to happen on a school-by-school basis or within LEAs it would be much easier to have a clear idea of how many people need to be trained."
Who'd be a head?
There are 23,000 headteachers in the UK. More than 40 per cent of these are in their first post and have been in the job for five years or fewer. Just over half of all heads are female, although with women making up over 70 per cent of the workforce they are still under-represented at the highest level. Heads from ethnic backgrounds are a relative rarity. In 200304, more than 1,000 headteachers were appointed, but only 19 came from ethnic minorities.
According to the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers workload study, headteachers put in an average of 60 hours a week - almost 10 hours a week more than a typical classroom teacher, and 20 hours a week more than the UK average across all jobs. And some heads of large secondaries admit to working 80-hour weeks on a regular basis. On top of that, there's the pressure of accountability.
"More and more heads are losing their jobs as a result of Ofsted inspections," says Dr John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association. "If there's a problem, then it's the head who has to carry the can."
Long hours? Diminishing job security? What could possibly persuade a contented classroom teacher to move into management? According to NCSL polls, the answer is job satisfaction. Their surveys reveal that what headteachers value most about the role is its "dynamic and varied nature", followed closely by the chance "to build shared values".
"In spite of all the pressures, being a head is still a great job," says Dr Dunford. "Nothing else offers the same opportunity to influence directly the lives of young people."
What about the money?
Currently, the salary for heads of small primaries starts at Pounds 38,000.
At the top end of the pay scale, heads of large secondaries can be earning pound;93,000.
But with Advanced Skills Teachers able to command salaries approaching Pounds 50,000, while still being based in the classroom, both the Secondary Heads' Association and the National Association of Headteachers argue that management salaries need reviewing.
"There are more career routes for successful teachers, which is a good thing," says Dr Dunford. "But perhaps it has made the role of head less attractive. Senior teachers deciding whether or not to move into leadership may not feel that the extra responsibilities are properly reflected in the salary."
Dr Dunford also stresses the importance of considering heads' salaries in relation to comparable management posts outside teaching. "In recent years, too many good heads have been lured to private companies by the prospect of more money," he says.
The NAHT agrees and has challenged the School Teacher Review Body to recommend big pay rises for school leaders. By September 2007, the headteachers' union would like to see a typical primary head being able to earn up to Pounds 70,000, with heads of large secondaries getting as much as pound;134,000.
The reality is that some schools already offer salaries approaching these levels. "Schools don't stick to the pay scale," says Professor Howson.
"Offering a salary beyond the scale is often their only hope of attracting applicants." Some large primaries promise around pound;65,000, while Pounds 100,000 salaries for secondary heads are offered in London, and occasionally outside the capital too. Meanwhile, principals of academies earn up to Pounds 120,000.
But even a bulging pay packet isn't always enough to lure potential applicants. One school in the north advertised for a head last year offering a six-figure salary, and was still unable to attract a suitable candidate.
NPQH: who needs it?
The national professional qualification for headship (NPQH) was introduced in 1997, and is run by the National College for School Leadership. To date, around 10,000 teachers have gained the award.
Since April 2004, it has been mandatory for all first-time headteachers in the maintained sector to either hold the qualification already or to have secured a place on the programme. (From 2009, it will be necessary to have actually completed the NPQH first).
The requirement to complete the NPQH does not apply to experienced heads applying for another post, or to heads of independent schools or city academies. It's also possible to be appointed as an acting head without holding the NPQH.
There is some doubt about how effectively the new legislation is being policed, with suggestions that where governors have chosen a head without either the qualification or a place on the programme, the appointment has been allowed to stand.
NPQH: who's eligible?
There are three routes to achieving NPQH, targeted at candidates with differing levels of experience. The "access" route is aimed at those who have perhaps been newly appointed to their school leadership team, with little experience of running school-wide initiatives. Sometimes the access course is offered to classroom teachers without management experience, particularly if they work in a small primary, where the leadership team consists only of the headteacher. The "development" route is for established members of a school leadership team, including deputies. These two routes account for the majority of places, with a roughly even split between the two in terms of numbers. The "fast pathway" is tailored to those with extensive experience as a deputy, and to those who have already worked as headteachers, perhaps in an acting capacity.
Teachers on the fast pathway can attain NPQH status in three to four months, while those who join at the access stage may take up to two years.
Applications for the programme can be made twice a year, usually in May and October - and all applicants must have the support of their headteacher.
The cost of the programme is around pound;3,000 per candidate. For those working in the maintained sector, the NCSL meets around 80 per cent of the fee and the school usually makes up the difference. In the case of small primaries (fewer than 100 pupils) the NCSL foots the whole of the bill.
NPQH: what does it involve?
As with most qualifications, the NPQH involves some textbook studying, online learning, and seminar attending. But the bulk of the course is practical. The would-be heads take charge of a leadership project in their own school, which is monitored by the NCSL, culminating in an Ofsted-style inspection, where an examiner visits the school for a day to see the participant in action, and to interview the head and other "witnesses"
about the candidate's work.
But the NCSL is keen to stress that within this general structure, there is plenty of room for flexibility. "Everyone starts with the same assessment procedure, and ends with the same assessment procedure," says Robin Attfield, the NCSL's assistant director of leadership programmes. "But in between, no two paths are the same. It depends on where people's strengths and weaknesses lie."
Of those who get accepted onto the programme, less than 4 per cent fail the final assessment, although the NCSL admits that a "significant number"
withdraw or defer before that point. "Some people just decide that headship isn't for them," says Mr Attfield. "It's much better that they discover this during the NPQH programme, rather than six months into their first appointment."
New Model Army
The role of the head has changed enormously in the last decade, and with the expansion of extended schools it's likely to change further during the next five years. It's no longer a case of "one man, one job" or even "one head, one school".
"There's more flexibility than ever, in the way headteachers can operate,"
says Martin Coles, the NCSL's assistant director of research, who has identified what he terms "new models" of headship.
"Executive headship" is where one head takes control of two or more schools. It involves an experienced head being invited by his or her LEA to take executive control of a second school. It's usually a temporary arrangement, to deal with a short-term crisis, although some heads become "serial executives", taking control of additional schools on a regular basis.
Having one head in charge of several schools isn't always a trouble-shooting measure. Sometimes a "federation" of schools - usually small primaries - opts to have one headteacher in overall control on a permanent basis.
At the other extreme is the model of co-leadership, where one school has two headteachers. There are currently around 40 schools across the UK that have this kind of arrangement, and the NCSL identifies it as a growing trend.
Rebels and clones
In 2002 the Hay Group published a report on "breakthrough heads". It looked at 10 successful headteachers and weighed up what qualities they had in common. The answer, according to the report, was that these heads were "rebels" who weren't afraid to break the mould and take risks.
Will the NPQH mean an end to this individuality, with all schools running along the same principles, engrained during the training period? Already some governors say that they can identify NPQH graduates simply from the jargon on their CVs.
"We don't advocate a single right way of doing things," says Robin Attfield. "The NPQH programme won't in itself make you a good head, but it will at least allow you to hit the ground running. It equips leaders with a generic set of skills that they will need for the job. After that, it all comes down to individual personality."
* Secondary Heads Association: www.sha.org.uk.
* National Association of Head Teachers: www.naht.org.uk.
* National College of School Leadership: www.ncsl.org.uk.
* DfES: www.teachernet.gov.ukmanagement.
* Education Data Surveys: www.educationdatasurveys.org.uk.
* Ofsted report on Leadership and Management:
* Anxious about an impending Ofsted inspection? Questions about the new framework? Help is on hand at the TES website with Selwyn Ward, a seasoned Oftsed inspector. He will be logging on regularly to answer any questions you might have about the inspection process: www.tes.co.ukexperts.
DID YOU KNOW?
* Ofsted says schools today are better led than they have ever been.
Leadership is either very good or excellent in 40 per cent of primaries and 47 per cent of secondaries
* Recruiting heads isn't easy. Thirty seven per cent of vacant primary headships had to be readvertised last year for lack of a suitable applicant
* Just over half of all heads are female, although women make up more than 70 per cent of the teaching workforce. In 200304, more than 1,000 heads were appointed, but only 19 came from ethnic minorities
* Sixty per cent of deputy heads and subject heads say their career aim is to become a headteacher
* Heads of academies are earning up to pound;120,000 a year