Former headteacher has concerns over the job

John Watts is concerned for the future of education as he feels teachers and particularly heads are under too much pressure. ANL-161115-153543009
John Watts is concerned for the future of education as he feels teachers and particularly heads are under too much pressure. ANL-161115-153543009

A former headteacher has expressed his concerns over the future of education as increasing numbers of teachers and headteachers leave the profession early.

John Watts, who lives in Long Melford, was the headteacher of Heathlands School in West Bergholt for almost 15 years and is now a governor at St John The Baptist C.E.V.A. Primary School in Pebmarsh.

He fears schools are increasingly being pushed by successive Governments into chasing statistics and results, and away from giving children having a creative and enjoyable education.

“I wrote many letters decrying the overuse of bureaucracy and statistics in the life of schools. These sadly fell on deaf ears,” said Mr Watts 68.

“The situation has become considerably worse since I retired in 2009. Schools are stifled by statistics and regulations and teaching has become a science instead of an art.

“Hence headteachers are voting with their feet and retiring early or seeking sanctuary in the private sector.

“Headteachers are expected to extend the brainpower of their pupils to a degree which is more than humanly possible.”

Mr Watts, who is also a Long Melford parish councillor, feels schools are expected to drive improvement every year, despite the lottery of the attainment level of pupils replacing them the next year.

In recent years Mr Watts said he had seen former colleagues and colleagues of his daughter, who is also a teacher, leave the profession early, saying the pressure and number of hours they have to work has become unrealistic, recalling one ‘talented’ teacher who had left in her 30s.

The father-of-two added that this had led to vacancies for senior positions with none or very few applicants and with increasing numbers of younger head and deputy head teachers.

“It’s really sad. I’m really passionate about my profession but I think more and more it is becoming impossible,” he said.

“I’ve worked with some fantastic students but you wonder how long it will be until they burn out.”

He also criticised the pressure and fear put on teachers by government Ofsted inspectors, with an assessment as short as one day potentially costing some teachers and leaders their jobs.

“By the time some teachers are in their 40s their careers could be over,” he said.

Equally school governors are now expected to understand and play an active role in the new policies which come in from Government and play an active role in schools’ data collection.

Equally, volunteer governors - who often do not come from the world of education - face the chop from inspectors.

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, the teachers’ trade union for aspiring leaders, said: “The government’s obsession with high stakes accountability has created a negative climate for school leaders – a culture of fear where you are only as good as your last set of results; where you are trapped into making short term fixes rather than long term investments for pupils.

“Such a culture is not one in which leaders can thrive. It is putting many off from applying in the first place. Many deputies look at the difference in salary between their current role and that of a head teacher, look at the amount of time spent away from the classroom, and decide the risks are too great.

“NAHT research shows that schools are struggling to recruit to school leadership roles. Nearly two thirds reported difficulty in a recent survey, with 18 per cent of those with a head teacher or principal vacancy failing to appoint at all.

“This has significant consequences for the future if not addressed. We are facing an increase in pupil numbers, and we need to be encouraging more teachers to step up and lead schools.

“But instead too many are leaving as the long hours, high pressure and low pay start to bite.”