Schools Minister seeks to ‘export’ 100 brilliant school leaders with launch of £14m new incentive programme

A new programme to encourage high performing headteachers to consider less urban and lower performing parts of the country could help areas where recruitment had been a problem for “generations”, the Schools Minister David Laws said today.

Under the Talented Leaders programme the Government hopes to attract high performing schools leaders to places where standards are lower.

The scheme – previously described by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as a ‘Champions League’ of headteachers – was formally launched this morning. It is being delivered by the Future Leaders Trust on behalf of the Department for Education.

Speaking to Schools Week at the launch, Mr Laws said he hoped that both academy chains and local authorities would take the scheme to heart, and would see it as a way of “enabling them to be better, rather than imposing some sort of Government blueprint.”

“I hope that we can help to export and spread a lot of the really brilliant leadership that we’ve got in some concentrated parts of the country to some of those areas where the proportion of schools that is outstanding is much lower,” he said.

This problem of recruiting outstanding teachers for some of these areas isn’t something that’s happened in the last five years.

Mr Laws pointed to the difference in performance between areas such as Lambeth, where one in three schools is outstanding, and Blackpool, where only one in 20 is.

The scheme will launch in 13 areas of the country, including Blackpool, Bradford, Suffolk and North Lincolnshire, with the first heads expected to start in September next year.

Asked whether a decline in the number of people taking the National Professional Qualification for Headship was linked to difficulties recruiting high-quality heads in some parts of the country, Mr Laws said that in some cases problems with recruitment were much more ingrained.

“I don’t think that necessarily is the cause and effect. This problem of recruiting outstanding teachers for some of these areas isn’t something that’s happened in the last five years, it’s something that’s been there for generations” he said.

Mr Laws added that he did not want there to be just one Government-approved route through which people could come through to headship.

The new programme is being launched at a cost of £14m to the Government, working out at £140,000 for each head recruited.

The heads themselves will not receive any additional salary, but their school will receive £50,000 funding to be spent on leadership development, and the head will be eligible for up to £15,000 in relocation costs.

Peter Pendle, chief executive officer of AMiE, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ leadership section, welcomed the programme, but said there was a need to tackle deeper-rooted problems with headteacher recruitment and retention.

“We welcome the allocation of funding this programme brings and it is sensible to locate outstanding leaders in schools requiring greatest improvement.

“However, this initiative doesn‘t address the underlying need to change the current hire and fire culture, where the time head teachers are in post is getting shorter and shorter, that is driven by the existing regulation and inspection framework.”

Mr Pendle said that headteachers’ careers could be ended by an Ofsted inspection, forcing school leaders to place a disproportionate emphasis on preparing for this.

Asked whether the risk of losing their job or receiving a poor Ofsted rating prevented some heads from seeking jobs in the kind of areas which Talented Leaders is hoping to help, Mr Laws acknowledged that there was “undoubtedly” a fear around taking over a challenging school.

Mr Laws told Schools Week, however, that the scheme could appeal to people who already had experience in challenging schools, and who saw the benefit of the development fund and support being offered.

He acknowledged, however, that the programme would not be for all high-performing teachers.

“This is not going to necessarily be a programme that every single headteacher who’s outstanding or good in the country will want to buy into for a variety of reasons,” he said.