Heads being dumped like football managers, says union

They are not being given enough time to turn around failing schools, and the summary sackings are deterring able people from applying for the job

Headteachers are being treated like football managers and kicked out of their jobs at a moment's notice for poor performance, it was claimed yesterday. Figures revealed at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham showed that 146 heads had lost their jobs during last term.

Brian Lightman, the ASCL's general secretary, said many headteachers had not been given enough time to turn things round before being forced out because of poor inspection findings. He said the figures showed a rise on previous years, adding: "Remember – this is only secondary schools we're talking about." The union represents secondary-school heads and deputies.

Mr Lightman added that the trend was making potential headteachers wary of taking on the role. The conference heard that 78 per cent of ASCL members were less likely to seek a post in a struggling school than a year ago. "And can you blame them?" said Mr Lightman. "The accountability system has a lot to answer for in this respect.

"We continue to see schools dropping in Ofsted categories on the basis of one year's examination results, unrealistic expectations of the time it takes to improve, and an intensification of the football manager syndrome which destroys careers.

"It is no wonder school leaders think twice when they see these scandalous statistics. It is a disgraceful waste of professional capacity.

Mr Lightman added that it was "hardly surprising" that potential headteachers were being put off when they could be faced with "a mortgage to pay and unemployment" within six months. "To misquote Oscar Wilde – to lose one headteacher may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose hundreds looks like carelessness," he concluded.

The Education Secretary Michael Gove and Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, both earlier told the conference they were aware that new heads should be given sufficient time to turn schools around. "None of the things we want can be achieved if good people that can make a demonstrable difference to schools going through a bad time are dissuaded from going for it [the top job]," Mr Gove said.

In his speech to the conference, Mr Lightman also delivered a "must do better" verdict on the way ministers had carried out their jobs. He said "a relationship of mutual trust" had to be restored between ministers and the teaching profession.

"During my four years in post I have spoken to ministers about it on countless occasions," he added. "And I am one of many who have told them they 'require improvement' [the Ofsted category for schools that are not good enough]."

He also queried whether the Government's new secondary curriculum was "fit for purpose", saying that it did not stand up to Mr Gove's requirement that the curriculum should have rigour.

He said the Government's own consultation had shown 39 per cent of respondents said it lacked sufficient ambition, while 61 per cent were concerned about progression.

He said it included all the names of historical figures which had been put forward in countless newspaper articles, and the languages curriculum only stated pupils should "listen to a variety of forms of the spoken language and respond appropriately". "Which forms? Postgraduate lectures? Political speeches? Announcements at railway stations?" he asked.

"That is why the curriculum is like the emperor's new clothes – a hyped package which does not bear close scrutiny," he added.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that, despite the time and resource expended and the upheaval, this curriculum will position us in a better place than the one it replaces."