Stricter inspection regime leads to more sacked heads

Union warns that more school leaders are likely to lose their jobs if Labour or Tory plans are introduced
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The Independent Online

Record numbers of head teachers have been sacked in the past year as a result of pressure to improve GCSE results, figures to be published later today will disclose.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, will tell its annual conference that the figures have risen from 93 to 163 in a two-year period.

The increase is put down to pressure from local authorities and ministers to improve exam results, and to schools being turned into academies or federating, with one head taking charge of two schools.

The figures emerge the day after it was revealed that a new, tougher inspection regime introduced by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has seen the percentage of schools being ranked as "inadequate" almost double – from 4 per cent to 7.5 per cent – since it was introduced in September.

In many cases, the first victim of a failed inspection is the head. The Tories have said that all failing secondary schools will be placed under new leadership and turned into academies within a year if there is no improvement in their standards.

Heads also warned last night that sackings were likely to rise as a result of a plan announced by the Prime Minister last month to allow parents to trigger a ballot on a change of leadership at their children's school if they are dissatisfied with its results.

"I think we've lost a lot of talented school leaders," Mr Dunford said. "They are unlikely to return to another headship after such a bruising experience. It is a difficult road back."

He said the rise in the number of failing schools created the "danger" of more sackings. "When a school is in special measures [which follows failing an inspection], the head's job is at risk. Frequently, the local authority, under pressure from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, wants to be seen to be taking action. Some local authorities think that sacking a few head teachers is evidence that they are being vigilant on school improvement."

Mr Dunford will also warn that new procedures for complaining about schools to the Local Government Ombudsman will "increase head teachers' vulnerability and discourage more teachers from applying for senior positions and headships".

He will add: "Our challenge is to override this negative approach to parent/school relations. In school and college leadership, sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes the statue. Right now, too many ASCL members are the statues – and the pigeons have too little self-control."

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Schools, defended the plan for parental ballots when he addressed the conference on Friday. However, he acknowledged: "We have to be sure that a small number of vexatious parents can't destabilise a good school with strong leadership."

Meanwhile, a Lib Dem government would slim down the 600-page national curriculum to a core entitlement for pupils, the party leader Nick Clegg told delegates. It would include an entitlement for pupils to learn a foreign language up to GCSE; and the right to learn the three sciences separately. Schools would also be encouraged to offer more vocational qualifications.

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