Research into the supply of school leaders shows that even now there is a shortfall of up to 3,000 leaders, with those currently in-post being over-stretched to fill the deficit.
The School Leadership Challenge 2022 – a joint publication by the education charities Teach First, Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders – warns that unless action is taken this deficit will only get worse.
Its analysis of workforce statistics and trends as well as the likely growth in student numbers shows that 8,000 new leaders will be needed by 2022 simply because of retirement or those leaving the profession early.
A further 8,000 school leaders will be needed to meet the growth in leadership positions caused by the increasing number of heads who have taken up executive headships or CEO posts in academy trusts.
In the analysis, school leaders are defined as assistant head, deputy head, headteacher or head of school, executive headteacher or CEO.
The report warns that schools in England’s most disadvantaged areas face being hit the hardest: “These schools make up 40 per cent of all schools in England but are likely to face half of the leadership shortage. By 2022, our most challenged schools may need up to 10,000 more school leaders. That is equivalent to one missing leader in every school in a challenging context.”
The impact is already evident, the report says, quoting previous research showing that 40 per cent of school governors are facing challenges in finding good candidates for senior roles, meaning a reliance on ad-hoc, short-term solutions.
The report adds: “The impact is already clear as schools are estimated to spend up to £200 million per year on recruitment with many failing to find the quality of candidate that they want. According to a NAHT survey covering 200 leadership roles, over 30 per cent of adverts for headteacher positions in 2015 received no applications.”
One key barrier, the report says, is a relative lack of school leaders from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as well as an under-representation of women in leadership roles: “The leadership pool is not representative of the teaching population. Compared to teachers, headteachers are older, less likely to be from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and less likely to be female. This under-representation suggests there are many potential leaders in the female and BAME workforce, so identifying these existing teachers could contribute to addressing the problem.”
A further issue is the 240,000 “high-performing” teachers currently in the system who have five years’ experience but who have not taken on leadership roles.
The report calls for a “shift of culture”, highlighting that currently access to development opportunities, the identification of leadership potential and the support given to potential leaders varies greatly across the system.
It wants to see a system of personalised development for potential and existing leaders, which would include academic and practical learning, mentoring and coaching, and peer-to-peer support networks.
Other barriers include inconsistent recruitment practices, involving inexperienced and therefore overly cautious governing bodies and limited succession planning in schools. The report refers to previous research showing that the high-stakes accountability regime and the distance from the classroom also put off potential leaders.
Commenting on the report, James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, recognised some of the barriers. He said: “The government’s obsession with high-stakes accountability has created an incredibly negative climate for school leaders – a culture of fear where you are only as good as your last set of results. Such a culture is not one in which leaders can thrive. And it is putting many off from even considering applying in the first place.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “The government and profession have to work together to ensure the right training and development opportunities are in place to encourage and nurture future leaders.
“We must also work together to send out positive messages about school leadership. It is, of course, a challenging role, but it is also a tremendously fulfilling one, and we hope that many teachers will step forward to seize the great opportunity to become the school leaders of the future.”
For more details on the School Leadership Challenge 2022 report, visit www.future-leaders.org.uk/school-leadership-challenge-2022