Seven years after local management of schools revolutionised their jobs, heads appear to be under strain - but optimistic
The morale of headteachers is rising and their confidence in the Labour Government remains relatively high, according to a new survey.
Heads remain concerned about funding, their workload, and potentially damaging policies. But they say the most important factors for good morale are those within their schools: working relationships with teachers, parents and governors.
The findings of the telephone poll of 103 headteachers, 53 secondary and 50 primary, carried out in mid October, indicates that Labour is still enjoying an extended honeymoon period.
More than half of the heads said Labour was keeping its promises, and 55 per cent were either quite or very confident that education would improve over the coming year. But they still seek more positive action from above.
Analyst Norman Law of QA Research which carried out the survey on behalf of the Capstan Teachers supply agency, said Prime Minister Tony Blair and Education Secretary David Blunkett should heed the message from the heads.
"Headteachers are not ready to rejoice just yet," said Mr Law. "A school report from the heads on the Government's progress might be marked seven out of 10 and reads 'has made a good start but needs to keep up the momentum to be really convincing'." Many of the headteachers said it was vital for more funding to be put into education, and there were widespread concerns that talk of shutting schools and sacking more teachers smacked of a "tabloid approach" and "populist theorising".
One head seemed to speak for many however by saying of the change of government: "Because it has been so awful in the past, it can't get any worse. There appears to be a positive supportive dialogue at the moment."
But the vast majority of the heads seemed determined to get on with their jobs in spite of any negative external factors.
Almost every head said that raising standards in their school was their top priority, and most gave a high rating for dedication of their staff.
One head said: "If you have a good relationship with staff who work with you as a team and support each other and take responsibility, a school can cope with any problems that come its way."
Perhaps surprisingly, the heads did not feel particularly strongly that they deserve more pay. They relished the challenges they faced, among which they included adverse public opinion and criticism in the national press.
"Problems are a double-edged sword," said one head. "If the job wasn't stressful, it wouldn't be interesting."
Further stresses included concerns that pupils were more aware of their rights and responsibilities, and that large classes were creating teaching problems. Fears were also expressed that the Labour party's creation of foundation schools would lead to division and create a grant-maintained sector "in exile".
Despite concerns over the growing power of governors, however, heads overwhelmingly said that governors were working closely with them to manage and develop their schools.
Ray Mercer, managing director of Capstan Teachers, said his company had commissioned the survey to see how Labour was measuring up to its claim to be dedicated to education, education, education.