'Don't treat school heads like football bosses,' says union

Sackings for poor results must end, conference told
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The Independent Online

Schools should stop treating their heads like football managers – sacking them when they fail to deliver good test and exam results, a conference was told yesterday.

Mike Welsh, president of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), told his annual conference in Liverpool: "We must move away from the football metaphor of saying that unless the manager achieves promotion this year then they should face the sack."

Mr Welsh, head of Goddard Park community primary school in Swindon, Wiltshire, added: "Schools are organic .... Over a few years, we can be on top for some of the time, and pretty good most of the time, and occasionally have a hiccup.

"Just at the time the school might want some support ... along comes Ofsted [the education watchdog] and instead we get a punitive, clunking fist, which demoralises rather than enthuses."

Figures show the number of heads who have been sacked has grown in recent years. One union said it had seen a rise of nearly 10 per cent in dismissals in the past three years – mainly as a result of test and exam results or poor inspection grades. As a result, fewer teachers were prepared to put their heads above the parapet and opt for headship posts, Mr Welsh told the conference.

He suggested that if the football manager approach was applied to government education secretaries, there would have been many more departures from office. "The Conservatives look back with rosy-coloured spectacles to a time when Ladybird books ruled ... [but] this did not exist for all, and many children were condemned not to reach their academic potential at 11."

The growing threat to head teachers of facing the sack coincides with a time of unprecedented applications to join the teaching profession. Applications are up by more than 20 per cent this year. But Mr Welsh warned: "With the economic downturn, some are looking to shelter in teaching until the storm abates. We must remain a vocational profession."

Today, the conference will be addressed by the Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, and the education spokesmen for the Tories and Liberal Democrats – Michael Gove and David Laws. Mr Balls is likely to come under fire from head teachers for his letter to governing bodies urging them to consider sending home heads who refuse to administer next month's national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds.

Both the NAHT and National Union of Teachers are pledged to boycott the tests, due to be sat by 600,000 children in maths and English in the week beginning 10 May. More than 8,000 primary schools will boycott the tests, a union leader predicted last night.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "All around the country we're hearing that 50 per cent of schools, and counting, are going to do the boycott."

The figure is significantly higher than previous estimates.

Ms Blower, addressing the NAHT conference, also said the two unions should set their sights next on whether to boycott inspections by Ofsted.

She was speaking after delegates complained of the stress caused by inspections – and the faulty judgements of some inspection teams.

Mike Curtis, from Oxfordshire, said: "Everyone here today knows of a good head teacher who has been hounded out of their post by an Ofsted inspection."