Headship ambition at record level

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Aspiration for the top school job is at a three year high according to new research.

The annual Headship Index, now in its third year, reveals a 19 per cent increase in ambition since last year. More than 180,000 teachers, 41 per cent of the overall teaching population, have their sights set on becoming a head and one in 10 of these are determined to get there within the next three years.

The research, commissioned by the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services, shows aspiration for school leadership to be at its highest level since the Headship Index began. Something which is highlighted further by a recent report2 showing a decline in the number of unfilled headteacher vacancies.

These positive results come at a time when school leadership is facing a demographic challenge, which may mean many retire before 2012, and demonstrate a large number of aspiring school leaders waiting in the wings to replace retiring heads.

According to the Headship Index, women’s drive to climb the career ladder is increasing, with more than a third (36 per cent) now eyeing up a headteacher position. 

The majority of teachers see the headteacher role positively (75 per cent), up from 71 per cent in 2008, indicating the reasons behind this increase in aspiration. Well over half of all these (55 per cent) agree heads provide examples of good leadership and four in 10 of those who aspire say heads can influence children’s lives for the better.

Moral purpose is what’s motivating two thirds of determined aspiring heads to consider the role, whilst for four in 10 of those who aspire it’s the ambition to make a difference to kids’ lives.

Teachers in the 30-44 year old cohort are the most hungry for that senior role with nearly half (49 per cent) expressing intent to lead a school.  However, the biggest increase in aspiration came from their slightly older colleagues – those aged 45-54 years - with a 48 per cent jump on last year’s figures3. Ambitious middle managers are also keen to progress through the ranks with four in 10 aspiring to headship – a 38 per cent increase on last year 4. Many of these middle managers aspire to headship as they’re keen to push themselves in their careers (45 per cent) and a similar number (42 per cent) do so as they want to make a difference to children’s lives.

In addition rural schools and primaries, which traditionally find it harder to recruit heads, have also seen a swell in the numbers of teachers hungry for leadership.  Forty per cent more teachers from rural England aspire to headship than last year5 and nearly half of all primary teachers (49 per cent) have a desire to become heads. One third of secondary teachers (33 per cent) also have similar ambitions. 

Commenting on the Headship Index, National College Chief Executive Steve Munby said: “The development of the next generation of heads is of paramount importance. We know headship is challenging but rewarding and it’s encouraging to see so many teachers wanting to make a difference to the lives of children and young people. An increase in aspiration is good news for pupils and students, and harnessing this ambition is our number one priority."

John Dunford, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said:  “Headship is an immensely rewarding job. There are very few professions outside school leadership where one person can make a tangible difference to so many children’s lives on a daily basis. I am very pleased that more teachers are aspiring to leadership positions.”

Other key findings from the Headship Index research include:

  • UK teachers are among the most ambitious profession, when it comes to aspiration to lead. More than four in 10 (41 per cent) are hungry for headship compared to only 31 per cent of private sector employees who aspire to lead their organisation.
  • Of those wanting to climb the career ladder all the way to the top, nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of teachers say their determination to get there is unwavering, compared with just under half (45 per cent) of people from other professions.
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