Govt policies blamed for head teacher shortage

Government policy has been blamed for the poor recruitment of head teachers in primary schools.

Teaching representatives and opposition politicians claim the varied demands placed on heads have deterred teachers from putting themselves forward for the top positions.

However, the government maintains overall head teacher vacancies remain low and stable and any recruitment concerns are not unique to the teaching industry.

Research commissioned by two head teachers’ associations found over a third of primary schools were not able to fill vacancies posted between September 2006 and March 2007.

This represents a worsening climate since last year, when 28 per cent of primary school struggled to fill head teacher posts, and is in contrast to improved recruitment in secondary schools.

But the government points out most of these vacancies were filled when the position was re-advertised, in a trend common across most industries.

Nevertheless, Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called on ministers to “review the pressures on school leaders”.

Mr Brookes said: “Good leadership is the key to continued academic success.

“If the government is to achieve its aim of raising standards it must throw its weight behind improving the attractiveness of leadership posts.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, explained that qualified candidates were available, but teachers were unwilling to apply for positions in the light of the government’s education policy.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Dunford said the recruitment problem was especially acute in small and rural schools. Here head teachers must bare the full responsibility for implementing new government guidelines and Mr Dunford said many were reluctant to accept the stress.

Mr Dunford warned the problem is set to get worse, with record numbers of head teachers set to retire over the next four years.

The Liberal Democrats claimed the government was heading towards a “real crisis in school leadership”.

David Laws, Lib Dem schools spokesman, said: “Effective leadership is absolutely vital for school success and the head teacher crisis is therefore likely to have a direct impact in the classroom and upon children’s chances of success.

“Ministers have known about this problem but have failed to act. This report should act as a wake-up call.”

Jim Knight, the minister of schools, said the government was not complacent but denied there was a significant problem.

He said: “I remain confident that we can ensure that school leadership is as effective as it can be in raising standards for all and is an attractive career option.

“We have already increased the maximum heads can earn to over £100,000 a year and given schools record numbers of support staff to help heads in the challenging job they do. I have announced an additional £10m for the National College of School Leadership as they move from local pilots to a national roll out of their work to plan ahead for future shortages in school leadership.

“We will continue to work with all our social partners, including ASCL and NAHT, on this important issue.”

The Conservatives blamed the amount of paperwork expected from head teachers, claiming this had undermined confidence and not improved results.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: “The desire of education bureaucrats to be all encompassing has created a pen pushing form filling nightmare for teachers and it needs to be minimised.”