When it comes to the challenges facing schools, few are more acute than the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
It was no surprise, then, that education secretary Damian Hinds nodded in this direction when announcing a 3.5 per cent pay rise for teachers on the main pay scale.
But another recruitment crisis is vexing schools and governors – one that appears to be a lower priority for the Department for Education: the diminishing pool of future school leaders.
In setting the remit for the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) in December, Hinds’ predecessor, Justine Greening, asked it to think about promoting recruitment and retention among all teachers – including leaders.
Reporting back five months later, the review body’s conclusion was clear: “For September 2018, we recommend that all pay and allowance ranges for teachers and school leaders are uplifted by 3.5 per cent.”
But in an highly unusual move, the DfE did not accept the STRB’s pay recommendation in full, and instead cut the pay deal in half: real-terms pay rises for teachers on the unqualified or main pay scale, and real-terms pay cuts for senior staff and leaders.
For the NAHT headteachers’ union, this represents nothing less than “a slap in the face”.
So does this year’s pay award risk addressing one recruitment crisis at the cost of exacerbating another?
Anecdotes and data
Not according to the DfE’s own evidence to the STRB, which the report says “did not raise concerns about the ability to attract teachers into leadership roles”.
In fact, “the department told us that the flexibilities in setting leadership pay, introduced in 2014, were helping in this regard”.
In contrast, the review body itself seems alive to a real risk, outlining how several consultees “raised concerns about the ability to attract teachers into leadership roles”.
It adds: “This aligns with what we have heard on our visits to schools around the country, as few classroom teachers tell us they aspire to become senior leaders, and most assistant and deputy heads we speak to do not wish to become headteachers.”
And this is not just anecdotal. “The statistical evidence available also supports this picture, showing emerging problems in recruiting and retaining school leaders,” it says.
Indeed, the report cites the DfE’s own research, published earlier this year, which shows that the number of headteacher vacancies has doubled since 2011, while the retention rate for primary heads after three years has fallen from 84 per cent to 81 per cent, with a steeper drop for secondary heads, from 77 per cent to 69 per cent.
On the day of the announcement, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, told his members that the news was “bittersweet”. Good news, in that they would no longer be spending the summer “dreading having to make even more cuts, more redundancies, as a direct result of the pay award”. But disappointing because “the DfE has departed from the STRB advice for the first time in many years to deprive you of another 2 per cent increase after years of real-terms salary decline”.
He told the press that the award “will do little to retain valued and experienced senior teachers and leaders”.
Valentine Mulholland, the union’s head of policy, puts a human face to the abstract discussion of pounds and percentages. “I’ve had members coming to me and saying ‘this puts my family in a difficult position because we are falling so far behind’,” she says, “and we do have to remember that the average salary for heads is very far from the eye-watering figures that we normally hear.
“It is as much about what it says about what the government thinks about school leaders, that they will take the hit on all their policies, including this one.”
Her conclusion is blunt: “It is a slap in the face for senior teachers and for school leaders. It’s about what it says about how much we value them.”