It is the same story - from York to New York, from Oban to Ontario, few teachers want to become heads and those who do are often overwhelmed by the all-consuming demands of the job.
The report, issued this week by academics from Cambridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, paints a paradoxical picture, as the authors concede: school leaders appear to be enjoying more autonomy, yet they feel they have less room for manoeuvre.
Their conclusions pose a huge challenge for leadership in schools, at a time when everyone from the Education Secretary down is exercised about its key importance.
The issue does not appear to be one of shunning responsibility or lacking ambition. While only 8 per cent of teachers saw themselves as future heads, 14 per cent aspired to become a depute, 18 per cent a principal teacher and 11 per cent a chartered teacher.
Over the next two to three years, a critical period for the recruitment of new heads as incumbents retire, only 3 per cent of teachers said they would apply for a headship vacancy and just 8 per cent for a depute post; 40 per cent had no intention of leaving the classroom.
Those closest to headship - depute heads - cited a variety of factors which would deter them from going one step further up the ladder. These were:
- Loss of contact with the classroom;
- workload and work-life balance;
- budgeting and finance;
- disciplinary issues;
- managing staff absences;
- public speaking;
- interviewing new staff.
The study found that the salary was no compensation. "Changes in job- sizing and the impact of the McCrone agreement on salary differentials were consistent themes for heads and local authority officers interviewed," it stated.
"The flexibility offered by McCrone was outweighed by adverse effects of restructuring, job-resizing and remuneration anomalies.
"Frequent references were made to disincentives created by some principal teachers earning more than deputes, and some deputes earning more than heads."
The job-sized salaries for deputes and heads, who are on the same pay scale, range from pound;41,298 in a school of up to 128 pupils to pound;80,607 for a school roll of 522 and above.
The disincentives of headship are being increasingly reflected in the diminishing pool of candidates. A national survey of primary headteacher recruitment during 2005-08 revealed an average of only 4.9 applicants per vacancy. Of 336 vacancies, more than a third (117) were re-advertised one or more times.
Teachers do not report being influenced by their current heads in arriving at career decisions - no doubt, as the report notes, because of "heads' reluctance to encourage teachers to follow in their footsteps". Family and other teachers are the prime sources of advice.
Many of the observations in the report will reinforce the criticism that there is too much management in schools and not enough leadership. The report calls for an end to the "heroic" notion of headship, in which one person tackles not just every leadership challenge but also a plethora of ad hoc tasks.
It suggests that heads should be seen "as part of the core of a team of leaders with shared responsibilities and accountability across a school". The report says there are plenty of examples of schools where "collegial support and accountability did help to attenuate the pressures on headteachers and enable them to focus on their key tasks."
Much of the pressure experienced by heads is "self-imposed," the report states, because they find it difficult to delegate and believe that others cannot perform certain tasks.
- The Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland (PDF)
Reasons for refusal
- I went in the door as the depute and three days later was the acting headteacher before I even knew where the boys' toilets were - Primary head
- You're not just joining this school you're joining the local authority - Secondary head
- I was once told by someone from the council offices: `You are headteacher 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year'. And that's basically a good description - Primary head
- The person who does the dinners is off, or the dinners haven't arrived, or the janitor's off, or the drains are blockedroof's leaking - that's massive if you don't have a business manager Primary depute
- Why would I go to a school where I've been before, which has discipline problems, where you're in the playground chasing after people, where parents don't support you, where children are left at night? - Primary depute
- A huge number of sole parent families, a lot of grans running the family because mum is, quote, `a waste of space' - Secondary head
- I would never want to go to HMIE because I couldn't bear to look at the pain on a headteacher's face when I walked in the door - Primary depute.