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Who will replace the ageing heads?

Warnings of leadership crisis as it emerges nearly half of heads will retire within a decade, reports Graeme Paton

Schools are facing a leadership crisis because of a demographic time bomb that will see almost half of England's headteachers retire in the next 10 years, according to research.

The National College for School Leadership says that 45 per cent of England's 25,000 heads are aged over 50 and will retire by 2014.

Schools already face a shortage of heads, blamed on a lack of teacher recruitment in the 1980s and exacerbated by the growing pressure on school leaders.

The college says schools are too top-heavy and individual teachers should shoulder more responsibility so they can prepare to be the heads of tomorrow.

As of this year, all new heads must hold the National Professional Qualification for Headship before taking up a post. The college denied the qualification, a compulsory requirement from April, contributed to the shortage by making it harder for deputies to reach the top school jobs.

Professor John West-Burnham, from Lincoln university, who helped carry out the research, said schools should create a bigger pool of future managers by encouraging teachers to take more responsibility. "Most educational organisations are dominated by a relatively few individuals who exercise disproportionate levels of power and influence.

"This creates dependency, minimising individual potential and creating a permission-seeking culture. With control, there is virtually no trust, no choices, few opportunities for autonomous action and the need to seek permission for most activities."

He said teams of staff should be appointed to take over from heads of year and heads of department, rather than placing power in the hands of just one person.

Frank Hartle, of the Hay Group management consultants, interviewed 30 local authority officials for the national college and said virtually no school or council had systems in place to train teachers to become heads.

"Historically, career development has been largely driven by the individual teacher," he said.

Teaching unions are likely to be outraged by calls to place more responsibility in the hands of overworked teachers. Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "This seems like an easy answer to a complex problem. The main issue is that headship is an unattractive option - not that there is a lack of people being trained."

John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes university, said successive governments, not schools, were to blame for the crisis. He said that assistant head posts, introduced four years ago, created another tier of school leadership, making it even harder for teachers to reach the top job. In recent years heads' salaries have rocketed as governors compete to attract the best candidates.

Latest figures show the average primary school attracts just six applicants for every vacancy and more than a third are forced to advertise a post at least twice.

Burlington Danes Church of England secondary, west London, is offering up to pound;110,000 to attract a head, believed to be a record for a state school that is not an academy. Last month Highbury Quadrant primary, north London, became the first primary to top pound;73,000 in its search for a new head.

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