A school in Shropshire has been unable to recruit a headteacher for almost two years.
A request submitted under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that one school in the county had been without a headteacher for 21 months.
The figures revealed that nationally almost 1,000 heads left their posts in 2014/15 in the 80 councils that responded to the request.
Shropshire Council today declined to name the school still waiting for its new headteacher, but admitted it could be difficult to recruit senior staff for small rural schools.
Chris Mathews, the authority’s commissioner for education improvement and efficiency, said: “The local authority guides and supports governors to appoint headteachers.
“Where recruitment of a permanent headteacher is challenging, the council has a very successful track record of establishing interim leadership arrangements until a permanent appointment has been made.”
Councillor Roger Evans, leader of the council’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, said it was a dreadful state of affairs for a school to be without a head for so long.
“I’m surprised and dismayed that a school has been left so long without the most important person in situ,” he said. “I’m aware that some small schools are having difficulties recruiting headteachers because they are small.
"The headteacher in a small school will be expected to teach four days a week, as well as with all the responsibilities of managing the school.”
Has headteacher’s role lost its appeal?
It was once the pinnacle of a teacher’s career, the role that most aspired to.
But for many, it seems the pressures of the job – and the demands for instant success – means the job has lost some of its appeal. So much so that one school in Shropshire has been unable to recruit a headteacher for almost two years.
“While I am all in favour of having only good and outstanding schools, the stakes for each headteacher personally and professionally are very high indeed,” said one Shropshire headteacher, who spoke to the Shropshire Star on condition that they would not be named.
“In short, if a maintained school goes through a problem patch and gets a poor Ofsted grading, then it is converted into an academy automatically and essentially the headteacher’s career is finished.”
The Shropshire head who spoke to us said schools would inevitably suffer if they went for any period of time without a headteacher, or suffered from high turnover in leadership.
“While a school in the short-term, perhaps a term or two, can survive without a headteacher, in the longer-term in my opinion it is far harder to maintain momentum,” he said.
“Ultimately there just has to be one person that people look to for direction, and the best person placed is the headteacher. If this post is vacant, or if there is a lot of change over time, then most schools will suffer despite best efforts.”
He said the increased demands of successive governments have placed headteachers under extreme pressures that were not there 10 or 20 years ago.
“The pressures on primary heads is immense and in my opinion often far greater than those in secondary schools, particular those in charge of small schools,” he said.
“In general, however, headteachers in both primary and secondary are under a lot more pressure these days. There are so many accountability measures and statutory demands that have to be met, and the potential penalties for making a mistake or getting it wrong are wide reaching.”
He said that while the vacancy rate among senior staff is more obvious, there are great difficulties in recruiting teachers at any level.
“Recruitment is becoming not just difficult, but near on impossible for some teaching posts,” he said. “Many schools are unable to recruit because of the national shortage of teachers and have to make do with temporary or supply staff.
“I believe the vast majority of headteachers have become headteachers because they simply want to lead a school and provide the very best education they can, for the community they serve.
“However, there is now so much Government interference, so many funding and recruitment issues, and the penalties professionally for getting it wrong so high, that for many would-be headteachers the prospect is far less appealing than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”
Shropshire is not the only authority to have a problem recruiting and retaining heads. In Dudley, 30 schools had got through two headteachers over the past five years. Of those, 12 had three different heads over the same period, while two had employed four.
The news comes just over a year after it was revealed that Shropshire was to benefit from a £14 million Government-backed scheme to recruit high-flying headteachers to struggling schools.
The Talented Leaders scheme, which was launched to encourage top heads to take hard-to-fill vacancies in under-performing schools, was extended to cover the county in November 2015.
Shropshire was one of 20 new areas to be covered by the project run by the Future Leaders Trust, a charity set up in 2006 to close the educational gap between pupils from difficult backgrounds and those who are were better off. Trust chief executive Heath Monk said there was a national shortage of teachers, and Shropshire had been identified as an area where it was particularly hard to recruit good headteachers.
He said: “We find that rural and coastal areas find it harder. Lots of young teachers tend to teach where they have trained and the universities tend to be in the big cities, so they will get a job in London or Birmingham, and not necessarily think of coming to Shropshire.”
Mr Monk said the scheme, which was initially launched in Telford and Wrekin in 2014, would see the creation of a pool of hand-picked headteachers and deputies who had passed a rigorous selection process.
“It can often be self-perpetuating,” said Mr Monk. “If you have a struggling school, a head will think ‘Am I going to be able to bring in the people I need to turn it around?’, and often it will be harder to recruit teachers to go and work there.
“We need to encourage them to think ‘This is where I can make the biggest difference’. It’s about trying to make it an exciting proposition.
“We want them to think you don’t go to London to make your fortune, you go to Shropshire.”Subscribe to our Newsletter