3 Research Findings and Causes of Current Challenges to Recruitment
3.1 Serious Recruitment Challenges across the Country
The outcome of our research confirms that there is a considerable challenge for local authorities, and while degrees of difference in the challenge can vary, overall there is a serious recruitment issue across the country which gives rise to significant concern in a number of quarters. Whilst this can be seen more consistently in the denominational sector and also in rural areas, generally it is reported that headteacher recruitment is challenging across the country.
The previous ADES report and also a recent response to a FOI request confirm that numbers applying for these key leadership posts have in most cases been declining and, anecdotally, concerns were expressed regarding the quality and experience of some applicants being interviewed for vacancies. While no single factor alone explains the situation described above, a number do combine to lead us to a view that unless immediate action is taken, the failure to recruit headteachers will become one of the inhibitors to the progress of school improvement on a national scale and also will lead to significant operational difficulty locally.
3.2 The Increasing Complexity of the Role
The role of headteacher has become more complex in recent years with changes in legislation, curriculum and qualifications, expectations of parents and wider society. This was confirmed in our discussions with current heads and deputes. The perceived increased accountability which accompanies these growing responsibilities is a factor which should not be underestimated in the range of reasons why fewer applicants are coming forward for headteacher vacancies.
It was widely reported and acknowledged that the job had changed considerably over the last decade. Whilst the role of headteacher as the key educator and leader of learning was still perceived as important, it was no longer the predominant activity, with other leadership and operational duties taking much time and energy. Furthermore, those interviewed spoke of the very different and inconsistent perceptions of the job internally in schools and externally in school communities and beyond. There is also variation among local authorities as to how headteachers are engaged in the additional corporate priorities of the council and in the levels of support which are provided.
Headteachers are now involved in business-related decisions as part of devolved school management; in broader aspects of children and young people's welfare as part of the GIRFEC agenda; in employment and personnel issues relating to a range of staff in their schools; in health and safety matters in their role as property leads; in wider community leadership dimensions as part of their role as a senior officer of a Council; in, at times, challenging legal complexities relating to pupil and parental relationships. The cumulative effect of a very challenging and diverse role on current headteachers, who are seen by colleagues to be over-stretched with competing demands and a heavy workload, is such that for some potential headteachers, currently working at depute head level, the appeal of this leadership role has diminished.
The current reductions in local authority and school budgets across many parts of Scotland, particularly reductions of support staff, were seen to exacerbate the situation. The business support posts introduced at the time of the McCrone agreement were seen to be essential but were subject to change or even removal in some councils. There is therefore significant variation in the level of professional and administrative support provided for to the extent that it is very difficult to make like-for-like comparisons. Many headteachers report that a significant amount of their time can be diverted from 'leading learning' (which they see as their primary role) into administrative and managerial tasks such as finance, personnel, buildings and bureaucracy. All of this is taking place in the context of reducing capacity owing to budget reductions; increasing centralisation of business support which is often seen as less efficient and less effective; and of increasing demands e.g. the need for efficient management of records relating to children and their welfare. Lack of support for headteachers is cited as a disincentive to those considering pursuing this role.
Similarly, a call for a new approach to supporting Heads with the complex GIRFEC agenda, and the new 'named person' legislation, was made by many involved in the meetings with us. There remains in many places a significant disparity between the support available to secondary headteachers and that available to those working in the primary sector, particularly very small primary schools.
There were also widely different approaches to how recently appointed headteachers were supported in their induction to the job, many talking about the value of a more experienced colleague as a mentor but this is not a consistent provision across the country.
3.3 Leadership Skills Development
There is not a consistent approach to the development of leadership skills in preparation for headship across Scotland with wide differences in practice in local authorities and also across sectors. While some well-established leadership development programmes are in operation and available in some authorities, that is not a consistent opportunity. The national programmes of SQH and Flexible Routes to Headship had not been universally popular and in some cases were the only opportunity available for aspiring headteachers.
Some excellent examples of leadership development approaches were seen across Scotland but it was apparent from our discussions that these opportunities are not universally available and a clear pathway to senior leadership for those entering the profession is not perceived.
The flattening of the management structures described in section 2.3 above has resulted in fewer opportunities for those aspiring to leadership posts in Scotland.
Interesting examples were found of temporary leadership opportunities being made available to staff who in the past might have secured promotion to posts but for whom fewer opportunities now exist. However these were internal to particular schools and not part of a coherent or planned development programme. For example, one secondary headteacher we met described how he has used his devolved staffing budget to create temporary secondment roles in his school which has provided valuable leadership experience for several members of his staff.
In best practice examples, local authorities were using the national Framework for
Educational Leadership alongside the GTCS standards for leadership and management as the basis for their plans. However a consistent national approach is missing in the development of potential school leaders, ongoing mentoring and coaching opportunities, on the job training and work shadowing experiences, and more recently for entry to the new national Into Headship Qualification programme. The experience of those interviewed in relation to the impact of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership was mixed, with those in rural locations having least knowledge and experience of SCEL and its potential. Concerns were raised over the different approaches taken by Local Authorities to the costs to candidates of completion of the Into Headship Qualification.
In listening to the stories of how senior promoted staff came to see their own potential to apply for these positions, it typically rested on opportunities for development that had occurred by chance rather than design. Good fortune in the role models encountered in schools or in the local authority were the most commonly quoted examples. The ability to imagine oneself becoming a headteacher later in one's career is considered to be an important factor in encouraging future leaders to seek development opportunities. However, it is a concern that we found little evidence that systematic review and development is not identifying or developing potential leaders.
3.4 Pay Differentials
The issue of pay differentials as part of the national Terms and Conditions agreements for teachers was raised in every meeting. In many cases we found that the pay incentive was such that depute heads were not applying for posts if, for example, their current post in a larger school was paid only slightly below that of a vacant headteacher post in a smaller school. Examples of this situation occurred in the primary and secondary sectors.
While local authorities do have local flexibility opportunities to vary salary levels as part of the national agreement, few if any seem to be using it. One pragmatic and also successful model when established well is that of the 'cluster head', or executive head as it is known in England and Wales. Traditionally this has been used by rural authorities in grouping primary schools together for leadership purposes. Increasingly it is being used in many authorities, and also considered for secondary schools. We feel that there are advantages in this model but a more consistent approach to responsibilities and remuneration is needed across all authorities. This may also have benefits in raising attainment practice and is worthy of further study.
Notwithstanding this, there was a consistent message from the meetings and conversations we held with practitioners and association representatives that salary differentials were a major, albeit not the only factor, in the declining interest in headteacher posts.
3.5 Family Mobility
There is no doubt that the issue of family mobility has become a factor in the decision to apply for a post of headteacher in Scotland. Far fewer potential applicants for a headteacher post than in previous periods are now willing to apply for a post that involves relocation, even in cases where relocation support packages are available. Predominantly this is reported to be linked to working spouses and partners and also in some cases the housing market. Incentives are used by some Local Authorities to attract applicants but it may be that this is a social phenomenon which will require us to focus on local recruitment of senior leaders by developing local talent.
3.6 Effectiveness of Advertising Vacancies
The issue of the advertising of posts was discussed. Evidence suggests that traditional forms of advertising in journals and newspapers have limited success when the only vehicle used. However the current policy of using My Job Scotland as the preferred advertising medium was also questioned particularly by existing headteachers. Both they and applicants who had used the portal complained about the processes involved, the technology, and also the successes it drew. In some cases it was seen as a disincentive to applicants. The use of social media alongside existing advertising policies was advocated and also a national marketing campaign was seen as a requirement, particularly to attract applicants from beyond Scotland.
Email: Christine Willson, firstname.lastname@example.org