Number of heads fired escalates

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Local councils have been taking an increasingly tough line on heads that failed to hit targets or struggled to raise GSCE results.

According to a survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), political pressure to deliver exam results has meant the number of senior school managers forced out of their posts in England has escalated by 75% over the last two years – to over 150 heads or deputy heads in 2009.

John Dunford, the ASCL’s general secretary, said the number of sackings was likely to increase in the future under plans for new complaints procedures.

This includes the power for parents to complain directly to the Local Government Ombudsman. Under the plans, parents will be able to call for headteachers to be removed if they believe their local school is underperforming. If enough mothers and fathers complain, councils will hold a ballot of all parents which could result in school leaders being replaced by a “superhead”.

This has prompting a former senior government adviser to warn that headship was turning into the “lottery you get with premier league football managers”.

John Dunford, the association's general secretary, will say, adding that other heads have been told to quit even if exam results have improved, because their schools have turned into academies and sponsors want new leaders.

The survey revealed that the number of schools judged to be inadequate has almost doubled in the last six months to one in 13. This will further fuel the rise in sackings, John Dunford told the Observer, with schools placed in this category being placed in emergency ‘special measures’ with the risk of being reopened as academies under new leadership.

He said: "We have lost a lot of talented schools' leaders who are unlikely to return to another headship after such a bruising experience. When a school is put in special measures, the local authority is under pressure from the government to be seen to be taking action and this could lead to a head being sacked. Some local authorities think sacking a few headteachers is evidence that they are vigilant and active in school improvement."

According to figures, at least 163 heads or deputies belonging to the ASCL were fired in 2009. This compares with 150 in 2008 and 93 a year earlier.

The large number of dismissed heads will add to concerns about school leadership as half of current headteachers are expected to retire by 2012.

The ASCL survey suggests that 75 of the job losses came from academies and the government's National Challenge scheme to improve schools where fewer than 30% of pupils get five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

Half of staff were axed from their jobs after concerns raised about their performance by local authorities or school inspections. Most signed compromise agreements, which gave them a pay-off, and ASCL secured £4.3m for its members in 2008 in settlements ranging from £5,000 to £100,000.