Hundreds of schools cannot find a head

Teachers are refusing promotions because top role is too demanding, says union

Hundreds of schools have been left without a headteacher as a result of senior staff being reluctant to take on the responsibility, it was revealed yesterday. One in five of the 1,930 schools where heads have quit since the start of the school year last September have been unable to find replacements.

One in five primary schools and one in seven secondary schools have had to re-advertise – bringing the total number unable to appoint a new headteacher to just under 400.

The figures, produced by teacher recruitment expert Professor John Howson, emerge as members of the National Association of Head Teachers meet in militant mood for their annual conference in Brighton. They are angry about national curriculum tests and the increasing bureaucracy in schools which they say is driving members from the job.

They are expected to give a cool reception to Schools Secretary Ed Balls who is due to address their conference in Brighton today and who will try to head them away from a boycott of national curriculum tests next summer.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said there were three key reasons for the lack of headship recruits: administrative burdens, the "naming and shaming" of schools in difficulties and a reluctance to take on the headship of outstanding schools "because the only way in league tables is down". In addition, faith schools were finding it difficult to recruit heads with religious convictions, he said.

One example of an administrative burden Mr Brookes cited was a new rule – currently going through Parliament and designed to reduce the amount of non-teaching work teachers have to do – which would "outlaw" teachers putting up displays of pupils' work on classroom walls. A breach of this rule could lead to a head being served with a "compliance" notice under the new legislation telling him or her not to let teachers carry on.

"Senior managers in schools should be left to carry on doing the job of educating children in the way that's best for them," said Dr Chris Howard, who takes over as NAHT president today.

The new legislation also paves the way for any unresolved complaint by a parent about a school to be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman, dubbed the Local Commissioner.

"We anticipate an increase in the number of petty, ill-founded yet time- consuming complaints," said a statement from the NAHT. "Beyond the hours of additional administration, the most worrying potential cost of this new system is the damage that can be done to a school leader's reputation if they are regularly drawn into... vexatious or malicious complaints."

Mr Brookes added: "People are seeing the administrative burden as too much. Also, who would want to go to a school that's in difficulties that's been named and shamed and blamed for what's happened?"

Today the heads are expected to deliver a massive snub to Schools Secretary Ed Balls over the national curriculum tests for seven and 11-year-olds. Within minutes of his addressing their conference this afternoon, they will vote on a motion calling for a boycott of next year's tests – the first time they have held a ballot on national industrial action.

Last night it was being predicted the call would be backed. Mr Brookes said the only way of ensuring a boycott ballot on the tests was avoided "would be if he said he's made a great mistake – we were right about Key Stage Three (where the Government scrapped national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds) and we shall do the same for Key Stage Two (the tests for 11-year-olds)".

The Government is awaiting the results of an inquiry by an "expert group" it has set up to look into testing before delivering its verdict. However, Mr Balls has said he is anxious there should continue to be a way of assessing pupils at the end of their primary schooling.