Headship needs a makeover

8th September 2006 at 01:00
The crop of new teachers has arrived in the classroom this week feeling happier and more optimistic than ever before, says the Westminster government body responsible for teacher training. They are confident that they can teach well and deal with unruly pupils.

And though schools still struggle to find teachers - particularly Welsh speakers - in some secondary subjects, the shortages of five years ago have vanished. Heads are no longer desperately trawling the world to fill posts, and evidence from Estyn suggests that the new generation of teachers is better than ever. Government incentives to draw people into teaching and a substantial improvement in salaries have done the trick.

But at the other end of the scale, the picture is less cheerful. Teachers are shunning headship because they are better off in the classroom, according to school leaders. And Welsh heads are an ageing bunch: 65 per cent have passed their 50th birthdays and are looking forward to retirement.

The Assembly government says it has planned ahead, and that more aspiring heads are being recruited. Other research suggesting Wales has the highest proportion of primary heads aged 35 and under may also give cause for optimism. Nonetheless, ministers need to consider how best to keep those bright young teachers in schools and persuade into more senior roles.

The salary and funding increases since 1997 have gone hand in hand with increasing demands. If teachers are being paid substantially more than they were a decade ago, substantially more is being expected of them. Financial incentives are not enough as the pressure of the job escalates. Senior teachers should have a right to sabbaticals to renew their energy and enthusiasm. Heads need a more supportive inspection system which helps them to put things right as well as telling them what is wrong. And everyone needs a break from all those government initiatives.

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