Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Jobs From Hell: State School Headteacher
The National Audit Office recently published a report entitled Improving poorly performing schools in England. It makes grim reading:
"As at July 2005, there were 1,557 poorly performing schools in England, which represented around 4 per cent of primary schools and 23 per cent of secondary schools. These 1,557 schools educate around 980,000 pupils, or 13 per cent of the school population."
Much of the state education establishment predictably responded by telling us to "celebrate" that 87% of pupils aren't in underperforming schools. But after nearly a decade of "Education, Education, Education", and all that money, this is an outright scandal.
What's to be done? The NAO has no doubt about the number one requirement in turning around a failing school: "Improving school leadership – Around two-thirds of schools that recover from Ofsted categories change their headteacher...the headteacher is key to sustaining performance and improvement in any school...a challenging and vital role."
An observation that accords with most professional opinion, as well as common sense. However, in its usual measured way, the NAO also identifies a serious problem:
"The numbers of appropriately experienced people applying for headteacher posts are generally falling, despite salary increases and the introduction of the National Professional Qualification for Headship, and there are concerns that it could be difficult to replace the large numbers of headteachers approaching retirement over the next five to ten years. In 2004-05, 28 per cent of primary and 20 per cent of secondary schools had headteacher vacancies."
Prof John Howson, Britain's leading authority on teacher recruitment, sees a growing crisis. He produces an annual report on senior staff appointments, including his "re-advertisement ratio"- the extent to which schools are forced to re-advertise headships because they are unable to attract suitable candidates in the first place. Ten years ago the re-advertisement ratio for secondary headships was 15%: by last year it had more than doubled, to 36%. He says:
"The school year 2004/05 has proved to one where re-advertisement ratios reached record levels for almost all types of schools and in many parts of the country. The levels recorded represent a labour market that is in some state of crisis."
Now, why might this be happening? Best ask the Heads themselves:
‘The initiatives that have crossed heads’ desks over the past 12 months...Primary and secondary strategies on literacy and numeracy, healthy school meals, personalised learning, workload reform, restructuring of teachers’ management allowances, enterprise education – the list goes on and on. 'It’s just one damned thing after another,’ says one head. ‘My staff see me trying to cope with all this rubbish on a daily basis, who can blame them if they decide to stay in the classroom.’
Or to put it another way, our "educational expert" politicans have interfered and micro-managed to such an extent that headships are now jobs from Hell: classic meat-in-the-sandwich middle management dogsbody box-ticking lick-spittle mixed metaphor political footballs.
Who in their right mind would want to do that?
No, there is only one way forward. The only way of attracting and retaining sufficient top quality headteachers is to give them authority over their own schools. Politicians should take themselves out of the loop, and the choice of schools should be left to parents and pupils (see eg Reform).
Posted by Mike D at 4:32 pm