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Thursday, 03 July 2014 00:00

Disappearing Kent Primary Headteachers, the Problem of Recruitment and the Resulting Difficulties in Schools

 There has been much debate since my previous article on the problem of Kent’s disappearing primary headteachers, with Kent County Council arguing that the removal of these headteachers  is a necessary part of school improvement, that the improvement in OFSTED outcomes proves this and that every Kent primary school has someone in charge of it. It appears from the information available that some 40 primary headteachers have lost their posts since September 2012, 21 by formal means, the remainder being "encouraged" to resign.

However, chickens are coming home to roost. There is a sharp increase in the number of primary headship vacancies across Kent, a sharp fall in the number of applicants for each vacancy to an average of 2.33 per post, a quarter of all primary headships are having to be re-advertised, 16 Kent primary schools have failed their OFSTEDs since September, there is a fall in the proportion of Good or Outstanding Schools inspected by OFSTED and more schools are seeing a worse OFSTED outcome this time round. Kent’s Key Stage 2 results for this summer should be interesting!

In 2012, KCC published its key policy document: Bold Steps for Kent”, laying out its key education priorities for the next three years. Its key policy aim for 2015 was:“No KCC schools will be in an Ofsted category of concern. There will be more good schools, with at least 85% of primary and secondary schools judged as good or outstanding”. With standards falling instead as we head towards 2015, KCC is clearly panicking and headteachers are becoming scapegoats, taking us into a spiral of decline.

 Primary  School Headship Vacancies

A Freedom of Information request about recruitment of headteachers asked  KCC  to “list the number of formal applications received during the first recruitment round, together with date of vacancy arising and name of the school?” and went on to request the number of times each post was advertised”. The Council advertises vacant headships through its KentTeach website, and reported back the total number of applications received as follows:

Primary Headteacher Vacancies in Kent 2011 - 2014
Number of primary
 Headteacher vacancies
Total number of
for all posts
Average number of
for each post
Number of posts
for which no applicants
on first advert
Number of posts
that had to be
Sep 2011-
Aug 2012
47 181 3.85 2 14
Sep 2012-
Aug 2013
43 131 3.05 2 18
Sep 2013 -
Apr 2014
46 107 2.33 4 11

The above data does not count the growing number of decisions by KCC, governing bodies,  Federations or Academy Groups to put in Heads of School, posts which are often not advertised. Sometimes these decisions follow unsuccessful attempts to recruit a headteacher, but allow Kent to state that all schools currently have a headteacher or acting headteacher in charge!

There may also be a few academies that advertise through a different route.

The data also identified 7 headships that were being advertised since the end of April, still working through the system, and by taking a conservative projection based on 2013 figures, one can expect this to grow to at least 10 and probably more.

This is a very sharp increase in the number of headships advertised and a dramatic fall year on year in the number of applicants for each post, with an alarming warning for the future. The problems of attracting headteachers is a national one but, in Kent it is almost certainly influenced by the county's poor reputation for handling headteachers in underperforming schools. Over a quarter of posts are having to be re-advertised each year (the small apparent fall in 2013-14 is because not all re-advertisements have yet been placed). 

Kent County Council has a protocol in place to replace some headteachers of schools placed in Special Measures who have been in post for more than two years, but states it does not take such action with heads of schools in Serious Weaknesses or Requiring Improvement. It also promises to be supportive of heads who are being moved on. Since my previous article, I continue to receive mainly second hand reports showing that KCC is breaking its own protocol with headteachers, some of whom have given their schools and the county long and distinguished service, being forcefully removed at short notice, who are outside this protocol. It is very difficult to get first hand evidence, as heads who leave with a deal are also required to sign an agreement, forbidding them to speak out about their circumstances.    

Meanwhile the number of Executive Heads employed by KCC continues to rise sharply, this now being a career move, but leaves an increasing number of schools with part-time leadership as such heads are deployed across a number of schools. KCC has just appointed a further 15 potential executive headteachers to their extensive pool of those available to plug the gaps. I am receiving increasing complaints from parents about primary schools where the child is not known by anyone apart from an oft-changing class-teacher, and too often the evidence shows no improvement in standards.

The figures for Medway, which also advertises through KentTeach, are so low I find them difficult to believe, and can only assume they have alternative methods of collecting applications and data.

School Improvement

Meanwhile what about the school improvement this turmoil is supposed to bring about? The main measure is OFSTED outcomes, the most recent Key Stage 2 SAT results published for 2013 showing Kent remaining below average nationally, contrasting strongly with secondary performance which is well above average.  

KCC is arguing that OSTED outcomes are improved,  but the only way I can see this is if secondary and special school OFSTEDs are taken into account, with the much maligned non-selective schools, mainly academies outside KCC control, seeing 83% of the 18 schools inspected this year being “Good or Outstanding”.

Most recent figures are:

OFSTED Outcomes, Kent & Medway Primary Schools
September 2013 - May 2014
7 47 33 16 103 25 30
Kent (%)
7 46 32 16      
0 11 11 5 27 3 11
Medway (%)
0 41 41 19      
National (%)
Jan- Mar 2014
6 53 36 5      
Kent Secondary
Sep 13-May 2014
5 15 2 2 24 6 4
Secondary (%)
21 63 8 8      

This table shows a further reduction in Kent’s poor performance compared with other Local Authorities, so this is not just a national issue. 16% failures is over three times the national average. Good and outstanding primary schools percentage, a key national statistic at 53%, is already down on last year's 56% which placed it 133rd out of 151 Local Authorities. Just three of the failed primary schools are academies, although almost a quarter of Kent’s primary schools are now academies. 

Something indeed is going badly wrong in Kent, which is seeing worse outcomes than those nationally and is rapidly going backwards with regard to its own targets. Too many heads are talking about a culture of fear, and the current Kent policy for driving up standards  is clearly not working, so Kent needs to try another route if our children's education is not to be further damaged.  

The consolation that Medway is doing even worse is hardly comforting!


Last modified on Tuesday, 08 June 2021 22:44

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