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Schools: Head Teachers

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to increase the number of suitable applicants for school headships.

My Lords, in 2007, we asked the National College for School Leadership to develop a succession planning strategy to ensure that we have a sufficient number of suitable applicants for headship. That work is undertaken locally through local authorities and faith bodies and tailored to specific needs. The National Professional Qualification for Headship ensures that new heads have the right skills for the job. We shall launch the new Accelerate to Headship programme next year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the good news that she has given. The evidence from Professor Howson’s research at Warwick shows that one in five of our schools has had to readvertise for headships and that schools are having great difficulty in recruiting. Does she agree with the two head teacher associations, which have said that the reason for this is that there have been so many changes from the Government over education and that heads suffer from bureaucracy, workload and expectations?

My Lords, I often agree with the unions on many matters. However, we have a significant demographic challenge around the numbers of heads who are approaching their entitlement to retirement. There are important demographic issues here. We should find hope in the fact that the NCSL’s headship indicator in 2008 showed that 151,000 teachers—35 per cent—have the ambition to become heads. While we have a really major challenge in securing enough heads, there is a great deal of hope for the future in these people coming forward.

My Lords, the matter is very complex, but does the Minister agree that part of it must be proper career progression? In other words, we must make it worth while for teachers to seek promotion into the management team, where they can get experience and take some of the responsibilities of head teachers and then be supported properly when they do the leadership qualification.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Getting the right leadership team at the top of a school is very important. Obviously, that is a challenge in some smaller schools and faith schools. However, we are working through the NCSL with local authorities to promote succession planning, and we know that the programme is starting to reap results. So I think that the noble Baroness makes a good point.

My Lords, to inject an element of party politics into the questions, is it not true that under this Government primary schools have improved enormously? Therefore, they are more popular and more parents want their children to go to them, which will shortly be reflected in an increased number of excellent heads.

My Lords, I am delighted to do so. Let us be absolutely clear about this: we have invested in more schools, we have better school property, we have more teachers than ever before and we have better results than ever before. I am optimistic that more teachers than ever before would like to go forward and become head teachers.

My Lords, what is the cost to her department and to local authorities of schools having to employ large numbers of temporary agency staff?

My Lords, it might be difficult to pinpoint that exact figure. The important thing we need to look at is the vacancy rates. The vacancy rates for the maintained sector have remained stable at below 1 per cent. That is very important because the demographic change in the headship population is a challenge. By 2020, 55 per cent of the current head teacher workforce could be looking at retirement, so there is a specific challenge. We have invested £30 million in our succession planning strategy.

My Lords, I salute the Government’s investment in teachers over the years. Is the Minister aware of the excellent support offered to groups of head teachers—highly valued by them—by the child psychotherapist Emil Jackson based at the Brent Centre for Young People? May I write to her on his work?

My Lords, will the Minister give her view on the arrangements made in Kent of federations with so-called superheads heading up groups of schools, which obviously facilitate the overseeing of head teachers being trained up in such schools? I think it is a very good arrangement. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness’s analysis. We need to be ambitious, flexible and creative about developing the future population of heads by ensuring that schools work together, work in partnership and use mentoring, and that local authorities are activated about the innovative solutions to which she refers. We have to have a flexible approach.

My Lords, going back to the questions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Shephard, how are current head teachers being encouraged to make both time and resources available for existing members of their management teams to engage in personal development activities? On the whole, teachers are hard-pressed and finding time for these personal development courses is pretty difficult.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, the Government take very seriously the need to tackle teacher workload. We recognise that head teacher workload particularly remains high. I am encouraged that, following the work done around the national agreement with our social partners, we have seen a reduction in the average weekly working hours. Part of this is about making sure that there are new entitlements for protected time for such matters as concentrating on leadership and management and guaranteed time for planning and preparation of teaching work where head teachers still have a teaching load. A lot of hard work is being done to give head teachers protected time for their responsibilities and to reduce the overall average weekly working hours.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the skills required for teaching in a school and for running a big school are very different and require different people to do them. What are the Government doing about making the career path easier for teachers who are not terribly good at teaching but very good at administering? At the moment, it seems to be the academics who normally come to the top.

My Lords, we have done a number of things. One of the most important has been developing the role of support workers in schools, such as the school bursar, to ensure that head teachers can concentrate on the leadership of teaching and learning in a school. As the noble Lord suggests, we must ensure that we allow school staff to play to their strengths and deliver to the best of their abilities.