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Fears of headteacher shortage in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 08:53 07 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:51 03 July 2010

A host of Norfolk schools could be left without a leader because of a growing problem in finding new headteachers.

The county faces a headteacher recruitment crisis, with one in three primary schools (34pc) forced to re-advertise to fill vacancies, according to new figures.

A host of Norfolk schools could be left without a leader because of a growing problem in finding new headteachers.

The county faces a headteacher recruitment crisis, with one in three primary schools (34pc) forced to re-advertise to fill vacancies, according to new figures.

The statistics show that 47 of the 137 primaries looking for a new head in the last three years had to re-advertise because of a lack of suitable candidates. Some have advertised five times before finding the right person.

Small rural schools are at the sharp end of the crisis, with many unable to attract more than two applications for headships.

There are fears that the traditional recruiting time of January and February could be a pinch point, with more than 2,500 English schools set to hunt for heads from a shrinking pool of applicants.

The situation does not look likely to improve, with a demographic time bomb set to go off as more than one-third of England's headteachers reach retirement age by 2012.

The 34pc rate puts Norfolk among the five worst-placed counties in England when it comes to finding suitable candidates to lead schools.

It is also higher than the national average for secondary headteacher recruitment, with six of the 28 schools (21pc, against a 19pc national average) seeking a head in the last three years advertising more than once.

Prof John Howson, who conducted the research for TES Prime, said Norfolk featured near the top of the list of counties because of the large number of small, rural schools and those located near the coast - which limited the area that a school could recruit from.

The county council is tackling the problem at primary level by introducing growing numbers of school partnerships, where one headteacher looks after two or more schools.

But, with a survey suggesting more than half of deputy heads are put off promotion because headships are too stressful, there are fears that growing numbers of Norfolk schools could be left leaderless.

According to TES Prime, the national average for primary school re-advertising is 26pc and 19pc for secondary schools.

The figures for Suffolk are 31pc for primary schools and 7pc for secondaries. In Cambridgeshire, the rates are 27pc and 20pc respectively.

A recent survey by the National College for School Leadership found that 57pc of deputies were concerned that the top job would be too stressful, meaning that competition could increase further as demand continues to outstrip supply.

Shelagh Hutson, Norfolk's cabinet member for children's services, said: “We want all of Norfolk's headteachers to be of the highest calibre and we work closely with governors to recruit staff that have the relevant experience and skills to lead their school.

“In Norfolk we have a large number of small rural schools and this can have an impact on recruitment. We have looked for innovative ways to tackle this issue and have developed 24 successful partnerships, where headteachers lead more than one school.

“We provide support to governing bodies to identify acting headteachers who can take charge until a permanent appointment takes place and help governors with the advertising and interview process.”

She added that the children's services overview and scrutiny panel had agreed to appoint a working group of councillors to review the recruitment and retention of head teachers in Norfolk.

Mrs Hutson said: “This will take place over the next few months and it is expected that the outcome will help us in this key area of work in the future.”

t For more information on the figures, visit www.tesprime.com.

t To read Steve Downes's blog on this and other education issues, visit www.edp24.co.uk/steve-downes.

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