such as the recently OFSTED failed Meopham School, which lost its headteacher as a result, have an Executive Headteacher with responsibilities in other schools.
Whilst there are many issues that have brought around this situation, what is pleasing is that Patrick Leeson, Kent's new Corporate Director of Education, is once again shining a light into the dark corners of Kent education. He has only been in post since October, but is already tackling tough issues such as: primary school standards; exclusions, especially of children with SEN; school place provision (three of my own concerns) and school attendance, and bringing his actions into the public domain for scrutiny rather than trying to cover them up. However, there are challenges to be faced. There is no doubt that the shortage of headteachers reflects the pressures they face: Government, OFSTED, League Tables, KCC, parents, even for some I have been told my own comments have added to the pressure. A rapidly growing pressure is the changing face of OFSTED under the new Chief Inspector, who is taking an even tougher line than before on schools he sees as underperfoming (now defined as including schools that get Satisfactory OFSTEDs). KCC has not been innocent itself and there are headteachers who have referred to a bullying culture, as heads get threatened rather than supported through their difficulties. One hopes that the new Director and Kent Challenge, a KCC initiative that focuses on supporting schools with low exam performance will bring in an improvement to previous approaches.
Many primary headteachers have risen to the top because they are good teachers, and discover that headship is a whole new world. However, current culture is to demand results from heads who often do not have the human resources to deliver. Bullying is less effective than support. Some are inadequate, there is no doubt of this, and are then forced out of office, but were they supported sufficiently? A look at OFSTED Reports of inadequate schools suggests not, in many cases. Two other recent departures illustrate what is happening, both from Medway. The headteacher and deputy headteacher of St Mary's Island CofE Primary School (a school whose families probably have the highest socio-economic profile in Medway and so ought to be at the top of the pile) both departed suddenly at the end of February following years of unhappiness and complaints by parents. The headteacher of Stoke Primary School on the Hoo Peninsula departed the week before the end of the Christmas term. The new Academy model exacerbates this, as who there will support the headteacher. Several high profile departures including Marlowe Academy and Bishop of Rochester Academy in Medway suggest an answer. It is easy to get rid of the head and replace them with another model. Hardly encourages what I call "old fashioned heads" as we see a new generation of headteachers emerge who know how to survive in the jungle. What we do know about academies is that they tend to offer higher salaries (perhaps for a job security coming to resemble that of football managers), this sucking good heads out of mainstream schools who may then be struggling to appoint a replacement. The Report says that last year one Kent school required 5 adverts before it appointed a head, with another 28 needing to re-advertise at least once. All this in a climate, long known, where the average age of headteachers is steadily increasing as a high proportion come up for retirement in the next few years, exacerbating the problem. Not surprisingly some school governing bodies are tempted to appoint a less than suitable headteacher rather than leave the post empty, creating further problems.
The report also looks at why teachers leave their posts. An exit survey in Kent reveals some shocking statistics. The top five reasons for leaving are: Low Morale, Poor Communication by Senior Management, Management Did Not Act In The Interest of Staff, Job Too Stressful, Poor Work-Life Balance. What an indictment, and what a waste! Perhaps the pressure from above comes from headteachers who also live in a climate of fear for their jobs.
The Report also criticises Canterbury Christ Church University, which trains a high proportion of Kent teachers, for arranging too many placements of trainee teachers in lower performing and less effective schools, providing them with limited good practice models. Sadly, part of the reason for this may be firstly that these schools find trainee teachers a valuable resource when they are short of staff, and secondly that some of the better performing schools and and academies are looking purely to their own interests without the need to make an investment in the teaching profession as a whole.
The above is somewhat of a rant, but what we must not forget is the superb professionalism of so many headteachers and so many teachers that ensures most of our children get a good education in good schools in Kent. However, for the sake of the life chances of the remainder we must get it correct.