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Dozens of Kent schools without a head teacher amid fears they are ‘bullied by government expectations’

PUBLISHED: 06:00 03 September 2017

Head teacher crisis

Head teacher crisis

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Figures are on the rise in the county, but the government says the proportion of schools reporting a head teacher vacancy has decreased

Head teachers across the county are leaving the profession in droves due to being “bullied” by government expectations, a union chief has said.

It has emerged this week that there are some 45 schools around Kent set to kick off the academic year without a head teacher in charge - up from 40 in September 2016.

While Kent County Council insists “robust interim leadership arrangements” are in place in each case, there are fears over the potential impact on both pupils and staff across the county.

Christine Dickinson, Kent secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told Kent News: “I’m very concerned because this is not just a local issue it’s a national one.

“Head teachers these days have a very difficult life because they are judged on Ofsted results and academic results which is a very two-dimensional way of looking at what a head is doing.

“They are being bullied from above by government expectations.

“Because of this, you then get young and inexperienced people taking up headships and they don’t have skills in man-management, for example, which is just as important as producing results.

“If they don’t get the required results, they get rid of them, rather than offering them the time and support to develop.

“We’re also seeing many taking a business-like approach where they employ an executive head on a huge salary and they’re so far from the chalkface, while those actually doing the job are not getting enough.

“I would like to see the local authority allowed to take a greater role in supporting the head teachers.”

Education consultant and former Gravesend head teacher Peter Read said he was “not surprised” to hear about the figures and shared many of the union chief’s concerns.

“There are many reasons for this but the main one is because people simply don’t want to become head teachers and put themselves in the firing line,” he said.

“When you look at the number being sacked and the demands that are put on them, it’s no wonder.

“You need stability in a school and some academies in particular have a considerable turnover.

“Without a substantive head setting policies and standards from year-to-year, it impacts enormously on teachers and pupils who need that stability.

“Government policy is putting pressure on schools, league tables, academy chains. The job description of a head teacher is enormous and you’ve got to relieve some of the pressure.”

Kent County Council’s children’s young people and education cabinet committee meets next week at County Hall in Maidstone to discuss recruitment and retention issues, but the local authority says it is working to improve the crisis and developed and launched a school leadership strategy for Kent in October 2015 as part of a three-year plan.

The strategy, which sees the council working in partnership with the Kent Association of Headteachers, the dioceses and the Kent Governors’ Association and the Kent and Medway Teaching Schools Network, is designed to “recognise the importance of strong and effective school leadership”.

The report, which will be discussed by the committee on Thursday, adds: “One of the primary aims of the leadership strategy is to ensure that future leaders in Kent are identified and supported.

“To do this, it identifies training pathways, and support and guidance for leaders at all levels.

“The strategy also aims to ensure that current school leaders are valued and supported through inspirational leadership conferences and events, and the creation of a strong and supportive network of school leaders across Kent.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said in response to the concerns: “Excellent leadership in schools, together with high quality teaching, is essential to improving pupil outcomes.

“Since 2010 the proportion of schools reporting a head teacher vacancy has decreased.

“However, we recognise the need to work with the profession to support great school leaders and we are actively addressing the issues that teachers cite as reasons for leaving the profession.

“For example, we are supporting schools to reduce unnecessary workload, introducing a range of professional training for leaders and funding targeted programmes to support leadership development in challenging areas.”

It is not just leaders that KCC is struggling to recruit, however, but also teachers at both primary and secondary level.

Last year it emerged that the town hall had been looking as far as Christchurch in New Zealand to fill vacancies and chiefs say they want to continue the council’s recruitment drive in Oceania, while admitting it may only be a temporary answer to the problem.

The report adds: “We believe that overseas recruitment is a short term solution for Kent schools and academies.

“However, to assist with the national shortage of teachers Kent-Teach [the council’s education recruitment website] have looked beyond national recruitment strategies to ensure that children and young people of Kent have high quality teachers in their schools.

“Kent-Teach works in partnership with an education agency in Australia called Point 2 Point and have negotiated reduced fees for Kent schools.

“Following a successful recruitment week in October 2016, 12 teachers were appointed to Kent schools.

“Kent-Teach are currently arranging Skype interviews in October with the aim of placing 10-15 teachers to start in January 2018.”

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