ADES Report On Headteacher Recruitment

Report on research findings and the current challenges to Headteacher recruitment.

Appendix A: An ADES Paper on the Recruitment of Head Teachers in Scotland. October 2013

1 Introduction

As part of the ongoing partnership between Scottish Government and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland ( ADES) on the implementation of Teaching Scotland's Future, it was agreed that it would be mutually beneficial for the association to prepare a paper on the various issues surrounding the recruitment of Head teachers in Scotland. There continues to be anecdotal evidence suggesting recruitment difficulties in the system and Scottish Government was keen for ADES to develop thinking in this area, particularly with the introduction of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership ( SCEL) on the horizon.

This is by no means an exhaustive research paper: the evidence collected being largely from Local Authorities via the ADES Personnel Network. However, the paper with its associated recommendations, is a true reflection of the current status of Head teacher recruitment and informal discussions with the two main Scottish head teacher associations, confirm the overall outcomes of our findings. In addition to the focused discussions with Local Authorities, and associated data collection, we have had discussions with Scottish Government officials, members of the SCEL team, the Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and we have also studied the initial draft of the research being carried out currently by Blake Stevenson into the Flexible Routes to Headship. The Times Educational Supplement in Scotland also made itself available for interview via its Managing Editor.

From the information available to us, it seems clear that there are significant ongoing difficulties for Local Authorities in Scotland in attracting candidates to the post of Head teacher. While these may vary from area to area, post to post, sector to sector, there are underlying challenges that lead us to a view that serious consideration is required, across the system, of the need for a package of measures which will bring improvement, continuity and sustainability of leadership in schools and communities. Some Local Authorities also expressed concerns over retention issues and while some of the measures outlined later in the report are aimed at addressing this matter also, it has not been our main focus.

This paper does not consider the specific issues surrounding appointments for Headship of Gaelic and Gaelic Medium Schools. These have been more recently addressed elsewhere in a piece of research commissioned by Bord na Gaidhlig.

2 Background and Context

There are 2064 Primary schools, 365 Secondary schools, and 155 Special schools in Scotland, the majority having a post of Head teacher dedicated to them. Management structures vary in the 2548 Pre-school provisions nationally.

The appointment of a Head teacher is rightly seen as being a crucial event for a school and also the community it serves. Such is the significance of the post, that legislation surrounds its appointment processes with Local Authorities deploying a range of procedures aimed at identifying suitable candidates and ensuring that the processes are as inclusive as possible of the parental and community interests. In short, this is a key post in Scottish Education.

The job of Head teacher has changed drastically over the years, moving from a leader of learning to a far greater range of senior executive duties depending on the employing authority and also the nature and size of the school. Operating within the national framework of conditions of service, Local Authorities have developed their own job specifications, local responsibilities, and also preparation as well as on going CPD for such post holders. More recently, rural authorities in the main, have developed an approach for the leadership of a group, or cluster of schools, by introducing the post of "cluster head teacher". Denominational schools in Scotland have their own appointments procedures reflecting the needs of the Roman Catholic Church, with the Scottish Catholic Education Commission playing a role in the preparation and appointment of denominational Head teachers.

Expectations on Head teachers have grown over the years to include now a more significant set of responsibilities for children's services within and out with the school, closer working with parents and carers, and often wider, corporate responsibilities including full participation in the community planning process. Devolved School Management is a function of the role of the Head teacher that sits alongside other related duties regarding people and resource management. Many Local Authorities have reflected these changes in the senior leadership teams and support staffing in and across schools.

Preparation for headship has developed to include a variety of training and leadership development opportunities, despite the financial climate. Councils often operate their own leadership development programmes and are involved in SQH and Flexible Routes to Headship opportunities. Not all aspiring Head teachers follow such paths into headship. The work of the National Implementation Board for Teaching Scotland's Future has given much thought to the need to focus its work on leadership development and the associated leadership framework now held in Education Scotland will support this. The commitment by Scottish Government to establish SCEL is seen as a very significant milestone in this area of work.

Public Sector agencies in Scotland are facing very significant budgetary challenges which are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Despite this, Councils have maintained their posts of Head teachers and have continued to try to fill posts as they become available. One aspect of the process of recruitment that has changed due to the financial circumstances is that of advertising in newspapers and journals. There has been a very significant reduction in such advertising, with a consequential increase in the use of the COSLA managed My Job Scotland portal.

It was against this background, that the number of applications for the post of Head teacher in

Scotland seemed to be reducing and led to the agreement between Scottish Government and ADES that a paper was needed which could outline some data and prepare advice for all interested parties on a way forward.

3 Findings

The ADES Personnel Network conducted, on our behalf, a survey of Local Authorities in respect of their vacancies for posts of Head teacher between January 2011 and April 2013.

22 Local Authorities responded to this survey. The headline figures from this survey were:

  • Overall there were 436 HT vacancies across the 22 Authorities during this period;
  • 103 of these posts had to be re advertised during this period;
  • During the period concerned, there were 122 posts where no appointment was made;
  • Only 12 Primary HT vacancies attracted 10+ applicants;
  • No denominational Primary HT posts attracted 10+ applicants;
  • 75 denominational Primary HT posts came vacant of which 28 went unfilled;
  • 45 Secondary HT posts were vacant and only 17 attracted 10+ applicants.

While there is no benchmarking data to make valid comparisons, experience from within ADES confirms that, overall, there are concerns regarding the numbers of applicants to posts and, in a number of cases, over the quality, hence the numbers of posts subject to re advertisement. A few secondary posts, mainly in the Forth - Clyde area, attracted healthy numbers (15+) of applicants, but others remained in single figures. The situation in the Primary sector is very worrying given the declining numbers of applicants, and the fact that approximately 25% of posts had to be re advertised. The view of all but one Authority is that there is a crisis in recruiting to Denominational posts and that even in West Central Scotland, serious concerns prevail.

One other relevant piece of statistical evidence comes from the annual census figures gathered by

Scottish Government. The 2012 figures confirm that there were 1050 Primary Head teachers in the 50+ age bracket and 263 in Secondary of a similar age profile. In terms of forward planning, this suggests that we are likely to see a continuation of relatively large turnover of posts in the years ahead.

The discussions that took place with the individuals and organisations outlined in section 1.2 above tried to identify some of the main causes for this apparent decrease and worrying trends in applications for Head teacher posts across Scotland. These can be summarised below:

3.3.1 Salaries and Conditions of Service

Evidence suggested that there were some potential applicants, currently at Depute Head teacher level in schools, who were unwilling to apply for HT posts due to the impact of salary differentials caused in some cases by associated job sizing issues. Typically a DHT in a school with a relatively high job sized salary being unwilling to make the jump to HT post for a salary differential of 1015% higher. We did not investigate the detail of the job sizing toolkit and cannot comment as to whether this is simply a salary differential issue or whether the existing toolkit requires a review. However, it certainly is one cause of the decrease in applications.

As well as differentials, it was reported that the increased responsibilities that go with the job of HT also were mitigating against some potential applicants fulfilling their original career aspirations. A real "is this worth the candle?" set of self-assessment questions being asked, with impact on the family, workload, increased parental expectations, possible litigation, as well as the leadership challenges outlined in para 2.3 above. Some of those involved with this study also indicated that serving Head teachers do not always outline the real positives of the job and negative perceptions can influence some potential candidates for posts. Local Authorities, currently, tend to appoint a HT to a specific school and find it very difficult to permanently transfer personnel to other schools in the Authority.

3.3.2 Identifying and Recruiting School Leaders

There is a mixed approach across Scotland to the preparation for leadership at the various promotional levels that exist. The traditional SQH courses and the more recent Flexible Routes are used by many Authorities, but not all successful applicants for Headship have these qualifications. Councils operate a mixture of in house and outsourced approaches to leadership development, some with a clear pathway, others with more sporadic approaches.

As indicated in para 2.5 above, approaches to the advertising and promotion of posts have changed very significantly in recent years. Some Authorities have focused on internal advertising only, most if not all use MJS, and some use external national and international advertising campaigns.

The actual process of appointment to such posts varies according to Council policies. In some cases a formal assessment centre is used, others have a long leet / short leet approach, while some use one relatively short interview. All Councils we are aware of meet their legislative requirements in this area of work.

Generally, there was no national succession planning policy that could be seen to be operating across the 32 Local Authorities which might have supported the local as well as the national challenges in recruitment.

3.3.3 Societal Changes

One interesting and influential societal change that seems to have impacted on the numbers of applications for HT posts relates to the mobility of potential applicants. Fewer are able or willing to apply for posts that require relocation, almost certainly due to changing family work patterns, and more recently housing market conditions have added pressure in this respect.

3.3.4 Denominational Schools

The analysis of the statistics on applications for RC headship confirms the seriousness of the crisis outlined in section 3.1 above. Local Authorities are committed to supporting denominational education and are extremely concerned for future planning. The various issues outlined above are all just as relevant for denominational schools but accentuated by the fact that there are fewer well qualified potential applicants working in RC schools, some who are now working in nondenominational provision, and others who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they may not meet the requirements for Church approval. The views expressed by ADES personnel network members suggest that there is not a common approach being taken across Scotland on this matter, something that was raised in a very productive meeting with the Director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

While we cannot confirm, through the limitations of this study, that the factors above are purely Scottish in nature, and some anecdotal evidence suggests they are not, we do feel they are central to the current problems of attracting applicants to posts.

4 Solutions and Recommendations

It is evident from the information gathered that no one solution will bring a quick fix to this complex set of factors currently prevalent in Scotland. However, bearing in mind the significance of the post of Head teacher in Scottish Education, we advocate a series of planned measures, some of a longer term nature than others, to arrive at a sustainable approach to assuring we have the highest calibre of leaders in our schools.

4.1 Leadership Pathways

We must ensure that there are clear leadership pathways through the profession, locally and nationally, which are understood and recognised by those with aspirations for leadership roles in schools and communities. These must relate to the recently established Leadership Framework, hosted by Education Scotland, and be a priority for the newly established Scottish College for Educational Leadership, and be recognised as high quality professional learning opportunities.

Local Authorities should work collaboratively with national agencies and SCEL to ensure that they have sustainable policies in place that attract the quality and quantity of applicants for HT posts required for the next decade. Bearing in mind the current financial climate, the advantages of inter authority collaboration, for such succession planning approaches, should be seriously considered. Proactive measures such as talent spotting, fast tracking of high quality personnel, availability of coaching and mentoring schemes and job shadowing, all designed to allow swift but appropriate progression to leadership roles, are among the measures which should be followed on a planned and resourced basis.

Following the publication of the Evaluation of the Flexible Routes to Headship, a short term working group should be established by Scottish Government, via SCEL, to identify measures aimed at implementing the range of qualifications based approaches best suited to prepare leaders for Scottish schools.

4.2 Promoting the Job

Bearing in mind the significance of the post of Head teacher at school, community, and national level, and the educational research linking the role of Head teacher to successful educational outcomes for children, there is a need for a campaign to promote the job, its benefits personally but also for public service, and for Scotland's future prosperity. Ideally this should be led by existing Head teachers who are outstanding role models locally and nationally.

4.3 Recruitment Policies

The responsibility for recruiting Head teachers lies with the employing Local Authority. There are variations of approach across the 32 Councils that seem, at times, to be too diverse even with the need to ensure that local priorities, budgets and corporate policies are followed. More innovative and planned recruitment strategies should be deployed and there is a need to recognise that top jobs in a Council, which HT vacancies are, require a profile that befits their importance for a community. While the My Job Scotland portal has been widely used by Councils, evidence would suggest that it alone, is not sufficient in attracting the quality and quantity of applicants that is required locally and nationally. In addition, there is apparent variation within and across Councils in the use of incentives and relocation packages to attract applicants.

The ADES Personnel Network is well placed to look at this matter so that a best practice model can be prepared and followed. This should include the complete recruitment process including advertising, selection processes, and ongoing support for newly appointed HTs.

4.4 Structures and Conditions of Service

There is little doubt that the job of Head teacher has become more complex than ever before, mirroring changes in society and communities. These factors are outlined earlier in the report. There are some options which might be considered in addressing matters.

There could be a review of the approach being followed by Authorities in assessing what duties should be included in a HT job description, removing as far as possible some of the non educational management responsibilities, and focusing on leadership priorities. While this has been done to a varying degree in Local Authorities, it is a complex matter and will require associated redeployment of tasks, with financial implications. On its own it is not likely to be a successful solution.

There is a strong case for questioning the current historic approach of appointing a Head teacher for each school in an Education Authority. While some initiatives have been made to move to more collegiate models, or cluster HT approaches, they tend to have been on a pragmatic basis and lack consistency within and across many Authorities. The options would seem to focus on either grouping Primary schools strategically under a leadership team with a senior HT leader in place, or focus on the 3-18 Local Learning Community, with an appropriately balanced leadership team. The advantages of scale should allow for the balance of leadership and management responsibilities, a focus on learning, and ensure, if appropriately structured, that there is no loss of local parental confidence.

There is a strong feeling in ADES that Head teacher contracts should be more flexible, allowing HTs to be redeployed, for the very best of reasons, to schools elsewhere in the Education Authority. This would seem to have advantages for the Authority but also for the HTs who would be able to have professional and career development opportunities at appropriate times.

These measures are understandably complex, controversial in some quarters, and point to a very different leadership approach in many Scottish schools. However, we strongly feel that the status quo is untenable and will lead to a systemic failure in time. As a consequence, a representative group should initially be tasked with "road testing" proposals and advising if there is merit in taking any further steps. The National Parent Forum should be part of any group alongside those associations with direct member interest. ADES via the VSCS will also examine practice elsewhere to ascertain if there are opportunities to introduce successful solutions from beyond Scotland.

4.5 Job Sizing and Salary Differentials

As indicated above, we have not investigated whether there is any direct link between the job sizing toolkit and salary differentials. We are very aware that a formal review of the toolkit would be a long and difficult task with possibly winners and losers as a consequence. SNCT will decide when, if at all, this is required, undoubtedly, however, salary differential is one factor in the decision of some potential applicants not to apply for a HT post.

As a consequence, we feel that two options are available to Authorities and their partners in SNCT to address a "here and now" issue of some significance. One would be for Authorities to use the local flexibility that exists and place Head teacher salary levels which locally seem appropriate, while recognising what the national implications might be of such a course of action. The other option is for there to be a review of Head teacher salaries which addresses differentials but also which looks at associated responsibilities. This should not assume increases in the overall salary bill for Head teachers, requires to be self-financing, and relate to some of the proposals in section 4.4 above. It would mean fewer posts at Head teacher level, but those in post being paid more.

4.6 Denominational Schools

The vast majority of the issues and solutions outlined above are just as relevant for the Denominational Schools in Scotland but, notwithstanding this, further and very immediate action is required to address the apparent growing crisis in this sector.

An urgent meeting should take place with Scottish Government, ADES, and SCES aimed at a mixture of short term and longer term solutions. The ADES Personnel Network will collaborate as far as possible with SCES so as to try to guarantee provision in RC schools.

Leadership pathways need to be proactively pursued and promoted for Denominational Schools commencing at Early Phase level, and also targeting those qualified applicants currently in nondenominational schools.

The Director of SCES should ensure that there is active and consistent implementation of the policy of Church approval across all the Diocese in Scotland.


ADES is extremely grateful for the support it received from a range of individuals and organisations in the preparation of this paper. Although by our own admission it is limited in its scope, there is enough evidence contained in the paper to confirm that action is needed as a matter of some urgency and priority to address some of the very significant challenges facing Scotland in the recruitment of Head teachers. Some actions can be initiated now but a strategic, comprehensive and national approach is required to address the structural issues that characterise this crucial area of leadership in Scottish Education.

Bruce Robertson
John Christie
John Stodter
October 2013


Email: Christine Willson,

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