Job stress 'forces head teachers to retire early'

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Head teachers' jobs are so stressful that fewer teachers are applying for promotion and the majority of heads are retiring early, according to a survey published yesterday.

A plan by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to train aspiring heads could simply deter even more potential applicants by showing them the grim realities of headship before they start, the report's author said last night.

The research showed small rural schools and those in the inner cities to be the worst affected. Many teachers have always been reluctant to work in urban areas, but problems in the countryside have escalated because of budget cuts. In these areas, heads now often face a full teaching schedule plus administrative duties.

The questionnaire of 200 schools, commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers from John Howson, of Oxford Brookes University, also showed that for the first time a majority of new appointments were women. But more men were still recruited in secondary schools, and the chances of a woman being appointed were far less if there were a large number of applications.

Mr Howson found that applications for primary headships had dropped by 20 per cent since 1988, and for deputy headships by 30 per cent. Thirty per cent of outgoing head teachers had retired early compared with just 24 per cent who had left at retirement age. A quarter of those who had retired had done so because of ill health or stress.

Difficulties in recruiting good quality head teachers were more severe in some areas than others, Mr Howson found. In inner London, more than one-third of posts had to be readvertised in the first seven months of 1995 compared with less than a quarter last year.In Lancashire, which has a large number of small rural schools, the percentage had risen from 17 to 26 per cent in the same period. Head teachers' salaries ranged from less than pounds 25,000 in one small school to more than 45,000 in a large secondary.

Mr Howson said teachers were being put off applying for promotion by budget cuts and redundancies as well as by the extra administrative duties imposed through local management.

He added: "People don't like being the bearers of bad news, and if they become head they know they may have to tell staff that they can't employ another teacher or that they have to cut a secretary. Whether Mrs Shephard's scheme will encourage people to come forward or discourage them is unclear."

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said qualifications would only attract the best potential heads if salary levels and administrative support in the job were also addressed.