How old is the head? It depends who you ask

28th January 2000 at 00:00
The age of most headteachers is a well-kept secret. Despite Kirstyn Doherty's belief that headteachers are getting younger, no one seems to know whether they actually are. The DfEE denies all knowledge of the matter, although John Howson of Education Data Services was able to reach parts of the Government's statistical archive that the press office couldn't, and came up with statistics comparing the situation in 1993 with March 1998, the most recent available.

The truth is that primary headteachers are getting both older and younger. Older in the sense that there are only half as many heads under the age of 40 as there were in 1993; and younger because there are far fewer heads still in post past the age of 55 than there were seven years ago. Thanks to a rash of early retirements before the pension rules were changed in 1997, only 2,400 serving primary heads are aged over 55. This compares with nearly 3,500 in 1993.

But the retirees have not been replaced with 20- and 30-somethings. A generally ageing teacher population - DfEE figures indicate that almost 60 per cent of all teachers are over 40, and just 20 per cent are aged 29 or younger - coupled with caution on the part of governing bodies can favour older heads. Primary heads are increasingly concentrated in the 45 to 55 age band (63 per cent compared with only 48 per cent in 1993).

"We are not recruiting younger teachers into headship in the numbers we would like," says David Hart of the National Association of Headteachers. "They'revery worried about taking on the responsibilities that go with headship, either because of rates of pay or concern that the funding won't be there to enable them to do the job as they would like to."

The situation is similar at secondary level where, according to the figures, there are no heads under 35. "I'm fairly certain that the average age at appointment for secondary headteachers is going up," says John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Headteachers Association. "The days when people got appointed as secondary heads in their mid-30s are long gone. It tends to be in their late 30s and more normally early 40s. Any governing body or governor is likely to appoint only one headteacher in their term of office, and I think they tend to be more cautious than local authorities used to be."

The figures bear him out. Of approximately 4,300 secondary headteachers in England and Wales, only around 100 are under 40 (all of them male), compared with 179 in 1993. The vast majority of secondary heads - nearly 3,000, or 68 per cent - are aged between 45 and 55. There were twice as many heads aged 60-plus in 1993 as now - 200 (4 per cent) as compared with only 100 in 1998.

John Dunford says: "The complexities of being a head, the sheer breadth of knowledge and skills required, mean that you probably need substantial middle management and senior management experience before you can move into headship. I think that the perception of headship as a difficult job is now much greater."

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