The Secondary Heads Association has called for improved contracts for headteachers to make it more expensive and more difficult for governing bodies and LEAs to sack them.

SHA wants the additional safeguards for heads because of what it sees as ‘a worrying trend of secondary heads losing their jobs as a direct result of schools going into special measures or not making sufficiently rapid progress following an Ofsted inspection’.

In evidence submitted to the School Teachers’ Review Body, the association says it does not accept the suggestion, often implicit in inspection reports, that there is necessarily a direct link between ‘failing’ schools and poor leadership. ‘Governing bodies need to be forced to think twice whether sacking the head is really the best thing for the school’, said SHA’s general secretary, Dr John Dunford. ‘Governing bodies, LEAs and the government sometimes have unreasonable expectations of what can be accomplished,’ he added. ‘When improvements don’t happen quickly, they put pressure on the head to leave. In many schools, there are external circumstances that must be dealt with before leadership can have an impact on school improvement.’

SHA believes that governing bodies themselves are partly to blame. ‘It isn’t uncommon for governing bodies to downplay or hide problems when trying to attract candidates for a headship,’ said John Dunford. ‘The new head comes in with a picture of a healthy, happy school and may therefore be unprepared for the problems that surface when they arrive at the school.’ The association thinks the situation is likely to get worse under the new Ofsted inspection framework, which it feels places greater emphasis on leadership and management than on classroom performance. SHA believes the government will exacerbate the problem if it goes through with its plans to close schools that are branded ‘failing’ for more than one year.

SHA has called for heads to have improved contracts and longer periods of notice for heads so that termination would be more expensive and less attractive.