Government initiatives designed to end the scarcity of leadership candidates could struggle to attract takers. Irena Barker reports
LIKE many babyboomers in education, Peter Mitchell is looking forward to his retirement from headship this year.
At 57, he is stepping back after 14 years running the successful Thomas Alleyne's high school in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.
But the golf course holds no allure and he says he never wants to "make a day of going down to Sainsbury's".
Like hundreds of heads leaving their posts this year, he is well short of his 60th birthday. He has accepted a key advisory role helping to set up two new academies in Nottingham and Milton Keynes.
"I'm still enjoying the job," he says, "but I don't think I can carry on for many more years as it is so intensive."
But while experienced heads like Mr Mitchell either retire completely or row across the well-stocked pond of consultancy, local authority and inspection jobs, many are asking: who will be left to the gritty task of running our schools?
Around half of headteachers are over 50 and in 2004, 2,250 school leaders left for retirement.
The National College for School Leadership, which the Government has charged with succession planning, estimates the number will peak in 2009, at 3,500, and will dip down to 2,500 by 2016.
This, they say, means they will have to increase the number of school leaders coming into headship by 15 to 20 per cent to ensure a high quality "supply".
A variety of schemes and policies are already in place to find fresh blood.
Fast Track Teaching, the scheme to accelerate talented young teachers into leadership, has produced 100 "graduates" since it was launch in 2000.
These include 29 deputy headteachers with the average age of 30 and four headteachers and 1,878 teachers are still progressing through the scheme.
The NCSL's Aiming High pilot is offering a package of talks and workshops to inspire would-be heads, and help schools identify talent.
But whether these young and dynamic recruits will want to stay in the job after achieving the National Professional Qualification for Headship is yet to be seen.
A recent report from Buckingham University found that a quarter of secondary heads thought the task was now too big for one person. Another study found that 43 per cent of deputies do not want to move up.
Higher accountability and intense workload due to government initiatives have all been blamed.
Steve Munby, chief executive of the NCSL, is determined to change this. He said: "If we could inspire just 5 per cent more middle leaders to become headteachers the problem would be largely solved."
The Government hopes models where one head takes on more than one school - such as federations and executive headship - can plug recruitment gaps.
When deputies realise they can lead a school while the executive head is busy at the school next door, their confidence and ambition will soar, the theory goes.
This "have a go" hypothesis has already been proven in many schools, where deputies have been given a chance to take the helm, without taking on full accountability.
John Peck, 58, the headteacher at Peafield Lane primary in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, went part-time in September, following an illness, and plans to retire at 60.
His deputy jumped at the chance to fill his role on the two to three days a week that he was away and has gained tremendous experience as a leader.
Mr Peck said: "I know of several heads who have asked to go part-time but some governing bodies can be cautious about what staff and parents will think about it."
The National Association of Head Teachers rejected the push towards federations at its annual conference last month. It said that the measure did not address the real issues of why people are reluctant to take on headship.
Tim Andrew, 60, head of Chesham high school in Buckinghamshire, is retiring this year, after 20 years as a head. He has taken a job at a school in Beijing, developing an international A-level programme for pupils who want to attend university in Britain and the United States.
He said while many programmes available for leaders are excellent, new recruits are being asked to fit a tick-box "template" of what constitutes a new head.
He said: "As a biologist, I know that mutations lead to evolution. Complete uniformity can take the fizz out of that evolution.
"I'm not saying we should just appoint mavericks, but the NCSL needs to strike a balance, as they are tending towards a kind of 'head factory'
Mr Andrew also has reservations about fast track initiatives to pinpoint future heads.
"They are using a civil service model grafted on to the school system," he said.