Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Big rise in head teacher sackings

Headteacher and class
The union says not all heads are being given the time they need

The number of senior secondary leaders sacked each year has increased five-fold, with at least 150 dismissed in England last year, research suggests.

The Association of School and College Leaders says the pressure to turn round struggling schools is "unrealistic".

ASCL leader Dr John Dunford drew similarities to the world of top-flight football management, where managers can be forced out almost overnight.

But ministers say children do not have time to lose during their school years.

ASCL found that 4.3m was paid in compensation to their dismissed secondary school leaders in England last year.

In most cases, compensation for a contract terminated early would be paid by the local authority or out of school funds.

In 2004-05, the ASCL contacted all its members who were senior leaders in secondary schools, and found just 30 had lost their jobs. Last year the figure was 150.

The association believes that the increase in dismissals is down to the higher expectations placed upon school leaders to turn around school results.

The ease with which school leaders can be sacked will act as a disincentive to those wishing to work in challenging school, the union says.

Pressure

"Some heads are losing their jobs without being given adequate time," said ASCL General Secretary, Dr John Dunford.

"The LEAs or governing bodies may pull the trigger, but there is often somebody else loading the gun."

He said the culture was changing in schools and there was no longer the security of tenure of the past.

"I have no problem with a degree of pressure to improve performance," he said.

"We all expect that in services. But sometimes the existing head teacher could achieve the results with more support."

ASCL leader Dr Dunford
The balance between pressure and support is wrong, says Dr Dunford
On occasions heads were being sacked over a weekend, he said, although he accepted there was "on rare occasions" a need for urgency.

On the comparison to the quick-fire approach in football management, he said: "Governments and local authorities are often not going through the normal competency procedure, and our heads have to be appropriately compensated."

ASCL says that of the 150 sacked last year, half were dismissed from "National Challenge" schools or schools being turned into Academies.

The National Challenge requires schools to achieve 30% of all pupils attaining five good GCSE grades including maths and English. The government targets schools not achieving this benchmark with particular support, to ensure results improve.

When an new Academy is formed, often from a low-performing school, the private sponsor and the government may wish to appoint a new senior leadership team.

The government said that high quality leadership was vital to turning around poorly-performing schools as quickly as possible, but that where schools were making good progress, it was right to keep its leaders in place.

Schools Minister, Jim Knight, said all decisions on school leadership were rightly for governing bodies and local authorities.

He said: "No school should accept low attainment as the status quo, and the great strength of the National Challenge has been its ability to diagnose individual schools' problems and provide the resources to solve the issues holding schools back.

"Of course, in some cases, this has turned the spotlight on senior leadership teams."

He added that a career as a head teacher was more attractive than ever to teachers.



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