This is my 1000 word comment on the latest report into headteacher recruitment and retention which I had to submit as part of my course.
I would like to discuss and comment upon the recent publication The Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland. The findings of this report have been described as a “School leadership crisis.” (TESS 6/11/09, 1) At a time when schools are trying to implement CfE and the threat of education coming under central government control, school leadership has to be strong and effective. However, 23% of current heads would not recommend the top job to others and 30% were not sure if they would recommend the job. (MacBeath et al 2009, 51)
Development of Leadership
There have been moves over the last 2 or 3 years to introduce and encourage distributed leadership in schools. The EIS set out their ideas for “progressive models of leadership-rejecting top down systems of management” (2008, 4) and HMIe talk about leadership as “…not just about honing the skills of those in the most senior positions…” (2007, v) These are two documents and visions which have been central to encouraging distributed leadership among teaching staff in the school which I work. In my setting, most staff have taken on a variety of distributed leadership roles from teaching Scots language to running a Scholastic book club for the whole school to leading a school improvement plan working group. I would argue that all of these experiences do provide a level of leadership experience but again, with regards to my own context, there are no opportunities to develop skills in areas such as school budgets and employing new teachers unless you are already in a management position or in an acting role. This was an issue highlighted in the recent report. (MacBeath et al 2009, 46-47) In my local authority they run a leadership course called To Lead or Not to Lead. This is an opportunity to explore school leadership as a class teacher by taking on a small project in school with support from a school based mentor. The course also examines and encourages participants to look at the Standard for Headship. The next stage for those interested in a leadership position is to take the SQH but there are limited places and a waiting list. The other option is do what we are doing and undertake an alternative qualification at our own expense. I believe that the course may receive accreditation from the GTCS and we may be able to achieve SQH on completion. The current Scottish Government may now take action in light of the recent findings on headteacher recruitment and retention but many still feel that “…developments to date fall short of a coherent leadership framework, or clear strategy.” (EIS 2008, 12)
School Leadership Crisis
From my reading of the recent report, the main reasons for Headteachers not to recommend their job to others seems to be the long working hours and the demands of HMIe and local authority education departments. 57% of heads are working on average between 51 hours and 65 hours per week. (MacBeath et al 2009, 22) This must have a huge impact on personal and family life and commitments. Pressures also seem to come from the public accountability that follows on from HMIe inspections. Although inspections are designed to be constructive in nature, 60% of Headteachers have said that they found the inspection process “…less than positive.” (MacBeath et al 2009, 56)The other side to Headteachers not promoting their job as an attractive career move is the fact that only 8% of current teachers would like to be a head. (MacBeath et al 2009, 46) When you look at those who would like to be a depute headteacher, this figure almost doubles to 14%, which would indicate some kind of anomaly. (MacBeath et al 2009, 46) One depute headteacher attributes this to the fact that at one point her headteacher only earned £1,800 more than she did and that it was not worth accepting the extra responsibilities of headship on this salary differential. (TESS 13/11/09, 4) From my own context, there was a situation where the chartered teacher in school was only just behind the depute in salary terms and well ahead of what the Principal Teachers were being paid. There is an argument then about pay and conditions for Headteachers which would reflect the true nature of their jobs. The pressure and difficulties experienced by Headteachers were “found to be self-imposed because they find it difficult to delegate and believe that others cannot perform certain tasks.” (MacBeath et al 2009, 54 and TESS 6/11/09, 5) My Headteacher has been willing to delegate not only to her management team but also to class teachers, support staff and pupils.
I have only commented upon a very small part of what this recent report has brought to light and I have tried to balance this with my own opinion based on work context experiences and academic readings. I cannot offer in this short submission anything near a solution or answer to this problem but I am willing to give an opinion on how I would take steps to address some of the issues. The notion of succession planning comes up again and again in many leadership texts. It is implied in Leadership for Learning: The Challenges of leading in a time of change and more explicitly in The EIS and Leadership in Schools (2008, 13). It is a recommendation to local authorities and existing Headteachers that effective succession planning procedure are put in place to help address problems with recruitment and retention (MacBeath et al 2009, 58-59). My final observation is that there must be a move away from the idea of the heroic or charismatic leader, the single person leading and more emphasis put on team leadership especially with the senior management team. Without surrendering his or her responsibility as headteacher, more opportunities for distributed leadership need to be developed and encouraged for class teachers, including opportunities to shadow PTs, DHTs and HTs for those interested in going down the headship route. Qualifications such as SQH and other Masters level awards need to be more flexible to take account of teachers work and family lives and be designed so that candidates may work at their own pace. These small steps and suggestions will only go a small way to addressing the issues highlighted in The Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland but if the Scottish Government are serious about giving our children a world class education then they too along with local authorities need to start addressing the concerns with haste.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (2008) The EIS & Leadership in Schools, Edinburgh, EIS
HMIE (2007) Leadership for Learning: The Challenges of leading in a time of change, Livingston, HMIE
MacBeath J et al (2009) The Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland, Edinburgh, Scottish Government
The Tess, 6th November 2009 & 13th November 2009