A recent survey of 100 academies showed that large numbers of heads had departed during 2013-14. Many had resigned after Ofsted inspections and the highest numbers were in the secondary sector where nearly a third of schools were affected. The survey also revealed that many of the schools subsequently struggled to recruit a replacement – partly because of a shortage of applicants and partly because the cost of settlement agreements was constraining their ability to pay a high enough salary to attract candidates.
These figures do not come as a surprise to us. We have been seeing increasing numbers of headteachers losing their jobs during recent years and no sign of any respite in that worrying trend. A huge amount of talent and experience is being lost.
At the same time we are hearing reports of unprecedented recruitment difficulties throughout the country. Understandably people are thinking twice before moving from a relatively secure post to one which carries a real risk of ending their career prematurely. I find that desperately sad knowing from first-hand experience what a tremendously fulfilling and rewarding job headship can be, especially when you are surrounded by a strong team who share your passion to give the student the very best start in life.
If we are to realise our ambitions to create a world class system we need to be able to recruit and retain the highest calibre of school and system leaders. Treating them like football managers is no way to address this.
On the same day as this survey was published the Prime Minister announced the introduction of a pilot scheme to second middle managers from schools graded good and outstanding to those in difficulty. Both this and the ‘talented leaders’ programme that will be bringing headteachers into those schools that are struggling are welcome, laudable and worthwhile. Nevertheless both are only drops in the ocean which will merely scratch the surface of this issue.
What we need is something much more profound.
A culture of professional learning which enables us to prepare and nurture the next generations. That means providing appropriate preparation, succession planning and support together with coaching and mentoring programmes to support newly appointed senior and middle leaders.
A recognition that it is a fallacy that turning a school around is just about the headteacher. Although they are immensely important in setting the vision and tone and driving forward improvement there must be a recognition that school improvement requires a team effort. Heads need to be supported by a strong senior team and an equally strong team of middle leaders.
A recognition that school improvement doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to embed sustainable improvement.
All of this must be embedded in a culture and surrounded by a discourse which recognises and values the importance of these roles for the wellbeing of our education system and wider society.
‘Leading the Way’, ASCL’s blueprint for a self-improving system published this week, sets out in detail our vision of a self-improving system based on these values.
This is about investing in a long term commitment and not about wasting public money and talent by discarding heads as soon as the going gets tough.