UK set to be 1,000 head teachers short, report finds

A study published by the Future Leaders Trust (FLT) has found that an extra 1,000 head teachers are likely to be needed over the next five years, causing further concerns in the school leadership recruitment shortage.

The report raised concerns that the supply of new head teachers is declining just as the demand is set to increase, citing plans to create 500 free schools, which will require new executive head roles in multi academy trusts.

The report, entitled ‘Heads up: meeting the challenges of head teacher recruitment’, said: “Our initial estimate is that this could result in over 1,000 additional vacancies over the next five years.”

However, a number of school governors have expressed anxiety regarding the quality of applications for some headship positions. The FLT has called for better talent-spotting, pointing out that negative perceptions of headship as a high-pressure role and a possible career risk, for those trying to rescue challenging schools, are putting potential heads off the job.

The research also highlighted evidence which suggested it was becoming harder to recruit head teachers, including a survey by Tes which found that more than one in three governors had found the task of recruiting senior staff a difficult one.

Heath Monk, CEO of the FLT, said: “Fewer people are applying to become heads and that means even fewer people are applying to lead schools that serve our most disadvantaged students. Without effective and inspiring leadership these children are losing out on the education they need.

“The talent is out there but many people need encouragement to understand they can step up. The solution is for existing heads to spot potential leaders in their schools and inspire them about headship.

“That means correcting the negative perceptions about the job and talking up its possibilities.

“We also need to know more about the problem. Our report draws on many different surveys but we don’t know how many schools are looking for a new head at any one time. We need the data to identify where the greatest demand is and know how many people are in the pipeline.”

One of the report’s authors, Emma Knights, National Governors Association chief executive, wrote: Headship can be pressured and potentially lonely, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance can be difficult.

She questioned: ”Although a good chair and governing board will support the head, this is the nature of top leadership posts. Is school leadership less attractive because of the data-driven accountability? Or could it be that teachers don't seem to move around the country as much as other professionals?

"Many governors have experience of recruiting in their professional lives, and the first time they are involved in school recruitment can be a surprise: the quality of some applications is shocking."

Sir Michael Wilshaw also commented on the report, calling on heads to help stave off the recruitment crisis by identifying and training their own replacements.

He said: “It’s incumbent on all leaders to plan for succession and develop potential within their teams in order to ensure a positive future, not only for their school but the wider sector.”

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