Crisis looms as Norfolk struggles to find headteachers for small schools

Norfolk is on the brink of a headteacher recruitment crisis in its army of small rural schools, after two-thirds of recent vacancies in primaries had to be readvertised.

According to nationwide research, Norfolk is the worst performing of 150 local authorities in England for its success in securing first-time replacements for heads who retire or move on.

And time is running out to fix the problem, with numerous heads who were born in the 'baby boom' years set to retire in the next few years –leaving a potential shortage of suitable leaders.

The next national president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) urged education chiefs to take action to improve the working conditions of heads in small schools.

Chris Harrison, NAHT representative for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, who takes the top job for a year from Easter, said: 'School leadership at small schools includes 50pc teaching commitment, so you've got to be a head and a class teacher. The totality of the job is quite onerous.

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'Also, in career progression there's often virtually no difference between being a deputy head of a large school and the head of a small school. In fact, you may even earn more as a deputy head.'

He said something needed to be done to redress the balance and make a 'high stakes' position that he believed was the 'best job in the world' more attractive to young leaders.

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The research by Education Data Surveys (EDS) found 40pc of advertisements for primary school headships were unsuccessful across England in 2010 – with the figure rising to 67pc in the worst county, Norfolk.

Norfolk, which has more small schools than any other county, has worked hard to head off problems by establishing 30 partnerships, where one executive headteacher takes charge of two or more schools.

But there are other issues for the county, including its perceived remoteness as a location.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said 33 out of 55 primary headteacher vacancies had to be re-advertised in the 2009/10 academic year. A 'significant number' of them were for small rural schools.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'In Norfolk we have more than 400 schools and a large number of small rural schools, which can impact on recruitment.

'We have looked for innovative ways to tackle this issue and have developed 30 successful partnerships, where executive headteachers lead more than one school.

'We also work with schools to provide support and training opportunities to broaden the experiences of potential headteachers and, where possible, provide opportunities to work as acting heads.'

Mr Harrison said: 'Anywhere which has a high number of small schools is likely to have difficulties. East Anglia will find it difficult to recruit. Schools with a religious denomination are also finding it difficult to recruit.

'It's not about money: that's not the motivating factor in deciding whether or not to be a headteacher. It's more about the workload and the accountability that's involved.

'Many people are working as teachers and enjoying it, and their working conditions are actually pretty good. We've got a real challenge in ensuring that people realise that being a headteacher is the best job in the world.'

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