'Overburdened' headteachers warn of recruitment crisis

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Headteachers delivered a "hands off our schools" ultimatum to the Government yesterday, claiming that a welter of ministerial initiatives had put off potential recruits for headships.

They warned that ministers were responsible for an impending recruitment crisis - which will see a quarter of existing heads retire before the end of the decade and fewer candidates coming through to replace them.

A report by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson, of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment, revealed that Labour had imposed 58 new responsibilities on heads since taking office in 1997.

These included opening schools from 8am until 6pm to provide child care for children of working parents; organising out-of-school activities; and ensuring school meals met nutritional standards. "Altogether they mentioned 58 things that had been added to their responsibilities or changes with which they had had to cope," the report said.

The female head of a primary school in Wales said: "Some of the fun has been taken away and there is no time to do interesting things any more." The female head of a primary school in the east Midlands added: "Giving teachers PPA (which is a guarantee of 20 per cent of their time away from the classroom) has made it better for teachers but worse for the head."

The report, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, which ended with a strong "get out of our faces" plea from heads to ministers, coincided with the publication of a government inquiry into school leadership.

The inquiry, by PricewaterhouseCooper, split the teaching profession by recommending that schools could be run by business executives who had no experience of teaching in the classroom.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have no objection whatsoever to people outside the educational arena working with school teams. But we think the direction should still come from someone who has got deep understanding of how schools work, how children learn and those skills of teaching which you can only get by doing the job."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders - which represents secondary school heads - said his union had recommended the move in evidence to the profession's pay review body. "The possibility should be opened up that the best of school leaders who are not qualified teachers - the bursars and business managers - should be able to come through to the top job, provided that the person in charge of teaching and learning is a qualified teacher," he said.

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said: "While it may be helpful to a school to have an overall leader with a broad range of skills, I am clear that senior staff with real classroom experience should remain in charge of teaching and learning."

The new responsibilities

* Running extended schools. Tony Blair wants all schools to open from 8am until 6pm by 2010, offering child care to children of working parents and a range of out-of-school activities.

* Delivering the Government's "Every Child Matters" scheme, increasing heads' responsibility for pupils' welfare and making them responsible for liasing with social services.

* Implementing workforce reform agreement, which guarantees teachers 20 per cent of time away from the classroom and limits the number of lessons they have to cover a year.

* Improving school meals and ensuring they meet minimum nutritional content standards.

* Producing a school profile every year for incoming parents.