Diary of a headteacher: A leadership recruitment challenge

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Much is said about the recruitment and retention problems when it comes to teachers, but similar problems are emerging for headteachers as well…

The current teacher recruitment crisis is a well documented issue that has plagued our education system for the past decade.

Recruiting talented teachers in certain subjects can be extremely difficult and even the most successful schools will find themselves with a shallow pool of candidates for teaching vacancies. If you throw into the mix a number of challenging factors that a school might be experiencing, such as a “less than good” Ofsted rating, a falling roll, financial notice to improve or declining results, then the school becomes a far less attractive prospective employer for the few candidates that might consider an application.

Coupled with factors such as socially and economically challenging areas or rural and coastal locations and you are only starting to scratch the surface of the issues that make it challenging for schools to recruit great teachers.

If we are lucky enough to fill a teaching vacancy with a great teacher, then we have to do our best to keep hold of them because retention is as much of a problem in education.

A key aspect of my role as a headteacher is creating the conditions in which my staff can thrive. If the teachers in my school can thrive in their profession then our students will in turn receive great teaching and a great education.

However, I know not all headteachers hold this mindset and I speak to many disengaged teachers who have worked in a school where the culture is driven by fear – fear of Ofsted, fear of results, fear of failure. Our schools should be driven by a culture of love – a love of teaching, a love of young people, a love of learning.

Sadly we are not quite there yet and while the pressure cooker of accountability continues to create a system where there will always be winners and losers, there will always be a section of our profession who are ruthless in their pursuit of success and want to win the race to the top by any means possible.

So, if our profession is in crisis because we simply do not have enough teachers, because not enough graduates want to become teachers, and not enough of our current teachers want to remain working as teachers, we certainly have a problem.

But what about headteachers? It is widely acknowledged that a headteacher’s role is incredibly complex and stressful, but is there a common narrative in the media that outlines a crisis in the recruitment and retention of heads in the same way we see the teacher issue portrayed?

I know that many schools have to go through several rounds of recruitment before securing someone suitable to lead their school and I know of other schools that have gone through an eye-watering number of temporary headteachers, sometimes working several academic years without making a substantive appointment.

Recently, we have seen it reported that almost a third of school leaders are now leaving within three years of taking up their post. The Department for Education data revealed that of the secondary heads under 50 years of age, who were appointed in 2013, more than 30 per cent had left their post within the same timeframe.

When the leadership of a school is well renowned as having a positive effect size in educational research, should we be worried that our schools are struggling to recruit and retain headteachers? You bet we should.

It is the headteacher who sets the tone, the conditions and the culture in a school. It is the headteacher who can ensure the school chooses love over fear, and it is the headteacher who ultimately sets the direction for everyone else in the organisation to follow.

If our headteachers change jobs as frequently as football managers then what chance have our teachers got? What chance indeed have our students got? Yes, we have an obvious teacher retention and recruitment crisis on our hands, but equally as worrying is the paucity of people willing to stand up and lead our schools – and this is something we must start addressing very quickly.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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