Want the best? Then pay top dollar

US study urges $100K pay rise to entice teachers into headship

The role of school leader is rarely associated with business-class travel, chauffeur-driven cars and holidays in Saint-Tropez, but new research suggests that perhaps it should be.

Schools should appoint leaders in the same way that big businesses select chief executives, and should offer pay rises of $100,000 (pound;58,000) in a bid to attract the best candidates, according to a study published last week.

Research by the Thomas B Fordham Institute in the US says that too many school districts are hiring ineffective principals and recommends offering vastly inflated salaries to encourage the very best to apply. The study shows that too often districts struggle to convince the highest-calibre candidates to take up leadership roles involving longer hours, greater accountability and mediocre pay.

The US situation echoes that of the UK, where headteachers' leaders are warning of a looming recruitment crisis caused by a combination of the baby boom generation retiring and senior staff being reluctant to apply for headship because of the increased stress that comes with the job.

In the US, the average starting salary for a principal is around $80,000, which is less than some experienced teachers who earn in excess of $90,000 a year. And principals often have a much higher risk of losing their job.

As part of the report, researchers profiled the recruitment of principals and interviewed staff in five urban districts in the US. One unnamed assistant superintendent argued that there was currently very little to attract the best and brightest to apply to become a principal.

"The job is demanding and hard," they said. "Accountability is a major deterrent for people. If you are a lead teacher in our district, you can make significantly more than assistant principals while shouldering less accountability and working fewer days, so there is no incentive to leave the classroom."

The study suggests that by vastly increasing principals' pay packets and treating them as chief executives, school districts would receive applications from a better calibre of candidate.

"Districts need to stop viewing principals as glorified teachers and more as executives with expertise in instruction, operations and finance - and the ability to add others to their leadership teams who may possess the skills they don't already have," the report says. "This is not a case of `advertise it and they will come'. It's more like `make it a phenomenal career opportunity and they will consider it'."

Giving every principal a pay rise of $100,000 would not be cheap, however. With approximately 100,000 principals in the US, the policy would cost around $10 billion a year.

In the UK, headteacher pay has grown significantly in recent years and a record number of school leaders now earn six-figure salaries. According to Department for Education figures, around one in four secondary school headteachers is paid at least pound;100,000 a year, with top earners taking home double that amount.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said that pay was undoubtedly important when it came to attracting top staff, but he argued that there should be a limit on how high salaries could go.

"There is no doubt that money matters, despite many people saying it doesn't," Mr Hobby said. "Offering a lot more cash does go some way to compensating for unattractive aspects of a job. Junior lawyers are paid handsomely but are asked to work every hour available.

"But there are also ways of attracting good leaders more cheaply who are not motivated solely by money. You want to attract those people who are motivated by a desire to do a public good, while paying them well for taking on such a position."

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