Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Rocky Road to Headship

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

The Rocky Road to Headship

Article excerpt

This article considers career decision making in relation to headship/principalship. It explores the career options open to experienced and promoted teachers. Changes in the role of the headteacher and perceptions of the role of the head held by potential and recently appointed headteachers are reviewed. Findings on acting headship are used to illuminate headship itself and recruitment issues. Headship is analysed in terms of factors at four levels: the system, headship itself, the school and the individual. The outcome of a recent major inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions in Scotland and changes subsequently agreed is analysed for its likely impact on the nature of and recruitment to headship. The article concludes with some thoughts on the need for sufficient but not excessive numbers of good applicants for headship, for effective human resource management of teachers and potential heads and for shared realism about the role of school leaders.


There are many dimensions to headteacher or school principal supply. There is the question of whether there are enough applicants for headship: a quantity issue. There is the question of whether there are enough good and suitable candidates for headship: a quality issue. There is concern that some of those identified as suitable candidates are choosing not to apply for headship, which could be seen as a concern over control: who decides who will be heads. Where there are several candidates for a post, the selectors decide; where there are very few the decision may effectively lie with candidates.

Is headteacher recruitment an issue in Scotland? There is no simple answer to this. In some areas, advertisements for headship attract more than enough good candidates. In some schools and in some areas, on the other hand, there have been problems, especially in the case of small rural primary schools, which have led to public concern (e.g. Times Educational Supplement 6 April 2001). However even though the scale of the problem is not large as yet, the difficulty identified by Williams (2001) in Ontario of an ageing profession, many staff due to retire shortly and a shrinking pool of applicants is as relevant to Scotland as it is to many other places.

Part of the wider context for a consideration of headteacher recruitment must be that of recruitment and retention in teaching. Headteachers in Scotland are still, as in most other parts of the globe, professionally qualified and experienced teachers. Difficulties in recruiting into teaching will necessarily have a knock-on effect on applications for headship. Recruitment into and retention in middle management posts in schools are also important, for it is here that most headteachers acquire their initial experience of management.

This article will begin with a brief description of the Scottish system. We shall then consider the process of career decision making and the factors affecting decisions about whether to apply for headship at four different levels: the system; headship per se; school-specific and the individual. The paper will draw on studies of headship conducted in Scotland, which explored possible contenders for headship and recently appointed headteachers. We will also draw on a longitudinal study of teachers' careers and patterns of career decision making in Scotland and a recent study of acting headship which throws into sharp relief some of the issues relating to the nature of headship itself.

Education In Scotland

Scotland has a population of 5.1 million and its education system is distinct from those found elsewhere in the United Kingdom (UK). Although major changes in education often resemble those occurring in other parts of the UK, there are also differences in both the content and process of change. Education is overseen by the Scottish Executive Education Department which is answerable to the recently re-established Scottish Parliament. …

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