Time off helps heads to stay on

Paid study leave could stem the flood of state school leaders leaving the profession. Graeme Paton reports

State school headteachers should be given regular sabbaticals to keep them in the top jobs, the country's leading private schools' organisation said today. Geoff Lucas, general secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said investment in private school heads had reaped rewards, with hundreds opting to stay longer in the post.

Research by the HMC, which represents 240 fee-paying schools, including Eton, Harrow and Winchester, shows that a fifth of heads had been given a sabbatical, normally lasting a term. Mr Lucas said the emphasis on "nurturing and feeding" private school heads had a knock-on effect, with three-quarters staying at the same school for five years or more and two-fifths remaining in the post for more than a decade.

The comments echo those made by England's General Teaching Council and leaders of state schools, who have repeatedly called for heads to be given paid study leave amid growing fears that dozens are quitting the profession because of stress. A survey earlier this year suggested that 1,200 state schools in England were without a permanent head and 20 per cent had to advertise more than once to fill the top job.

Mr Lucas, writing in The TES today, said that five years was the minimum time heads needed to "bring about meaningful change" in a school, but feared that many were being forced out early. He said paid study leave should be considered as an incentive to keep headteachers.

"Surely this is one area where the Government could learn from the independent sector," he said. "Remaining a head and sustaining meaningful change requires both give and take. A serious commitment to heads'

work-life balance by governors means that such opportunities for long-serving heads (and indeed other staff) should eventually become the norm, not the exception."

The HMC surveyed almost 200 of its members and found that 47 per cent had been head at their current school for five years or more. A further 15 per cent had been in a previous headship for more than five years.

The study also found that 29 per cent had been at their present school for 10 years or more and one in 10 were at their previous school for more than a decade. Among heads with more than five years' experience, 18 per cent had been given paid study leave, the majority for one term, although two heads were given year-long sabbaticals.

In a speech to the NASUWT teachers' union in 1996, David Blunkett, before becoming education secretary, caused a stir by suggesting that long-standing teachers should be offered paid study leave.

In recent years, demands for sabbaticals have been repeated by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders as a means of combating the stress.

John Dunford, general secretary of ASCL, said: "A very strong incentive to keep good headteachers would be a period of study leave after five years.

It would presumably provide heads with some obligation to stay at the school a bit longer and the work they undertake could have a huge benefit to the school.

"It is very difficult, as a headteacher, to find the time to do any strategic thinking."

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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