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EDITIONS
Friday, 14 February, 2003, 18:01 GMT
Have-a-go heads 'merit big bonuses'
Torsten Friedag
Torsten Friedag found his head was on the block in Islington
Head teachers who turn around failing schools should get five-figure bonuses on top of a 100,000-plus salary, a union argues.

The National Association of Head Teachers says a new type of reward package - also including private health insurance and perhaps a car, childcare and a pension uplift - is needed.

Otherwise high calibre head teachers cannot be persuaded to take on the risk of a school in very difficult circumstances.

Bonuses of 15% a year should be payable at the end of a five-year contract if targets were met, so a head earning 100,000 would get an extra 75,000.

"Certainly there is no way that the government's reform programme will succeed unless the best heads can be persuaded to take on the most intractable problem schools," said the general secretary, David Hart.

'Failure'

A paper published by his union also argues for a recognition of the fact that problem schools take some years to fix.

It says some of the first crop of "superheads" - a term head teachers "intensely dislike" - were no longer in jobs.

"The perception of the individuals, and the impact of the headship on their career, has been entirely negative.

"They are perceived to have failed."

Reasons included unrealistic expectations of the time they would need to transform a school, and a lack of autonomy.

Mr Hart said they needed among other things a "reasonable level of control" over the school's intake.

If a school had spare places - as is usual in a failing institution - local education authorities all too often used it as a place to "dump" children expelled from other schools, he said.

Heads had to be allowed to refuse such children to avoid a "critical mass of disruption".

High profile

This reflects the experience of Torsten Friedag, the first high-profile "superhead" appointed in a blaze of publicity to the former George Orwell school in Islington, north London, in 1999.

He quit after only a few months, complaining he had been prevented from carrying out a mass expulsion of disruptive pupils.

Mr Friedag said on Wednesday that so-called superheads needed protection in case things went wrong and they could not get other employment.

He said he was told by the Department for Education that he could work for them - but after he had produced only one report, on his Islington experience, nothing else was forthcoming.

They felt his case had too high a profile in the media, he said - though they had created that situation.

He now runs a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties - but in the private sector, something he would never have considered before.

Backup

Mr Friedag said one sort of protection might be that the appointment should be only a secondment from another post, which a head could fall back on.

Or there should be a much higher salary, to provide a cushion in case of unemployment.

He had been paid 70,000 - a lot at the time.

"But it wouldn't have given me a longer term ability to say, 'If it goes wrong I'm OK'.

"So there were real problems with that, and I know there were a number of other superheads who felt the same," he said.

"If the public sector can't pay so much extra, like in a business situation, they have to have other ways of protecting the people who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet."

Salary levels

The head teachers' association suggests that initial contracts should be for five years, because it takes at least that long to turn a school round and achieve significantly improved academic results.

"Cosmetic changes achieved after, say 18 months, are unlikely to be deep-seated enough to be sustainable."

Although the critical issue was "real commitment" - "excitement at achieving in the face of challenge" - reward was important.

So the union says salaries for heads charged with turning round secondary schools should be from 100,000 to 120,000. The average is 65,000.

At primary level, they should get 65,000 to 85,000, compared with the average of 42,000.

Deputy heads and assistant heads would also receive significantly enhanced salaries.

See also:

07 Nov 02 | Education
24 Sep 02 | Education
16 Jul 02 | Education
25 Aug 00 | Education
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