Talented headteachers are risking "career suicide" by taking on jobs at the most challenging schools, a union leader has warned.
Many good leaders have already lost their jobs amid unrealistic pressure to raise standards quickly, while others fear for their futures, according to Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). Around 120 people lost their jobs in 12 months, an ASCL survey found last year.
But while headteachers who take on the top jobs in under-performing schools have great motivation to turn them around, they often do not get the support they need, Mr Lightman said. In his speech to ASCL's annual conference in London, he warned that headteachers are not "commodities" that can be thrown away, and suggested there is already a lack of people willing to lead the most challenging schools.
Speaking afterwards Mr Lightman said: "I'm very worried that for many people it's becoming career suicide and that would be distressing for our schools." He added: "What I'm seeing is a new, and very disturbing pattern that when a school goes into special measures then very often the solution, apart from turning it into an academy, is to get a new head. Very often the head is turning the school around, but it doesn't happen in five minutes."
Heather Scott took on the leadership of Bruntcliffe High School in Leeds 18 weeks ago. At a recent inspection the school was found to have serious weaknesses. She said she believes that she can turn the school around, and has already begun making major changes.
"That self belief that I have, and have to pass on to others is being knocked from outside," she said. "I've got, under the new framework, four to six weeks from the first inspection to make changes. I'm really good at what I do, but what differences can I make in four to six weeks that I can evidence?"
Chris Robinson, became headteacher of the Dearne Advanced Learning Centre in Barnsley nine weeks ago. It is awaiting an Ofsted inspection that is expected to be critical. "It takes great, great courage to leave a job you've been successful in and take on a school in difficulties," Ms Robinson said.
She said the school has "tremendous potential" for going forward, and believes it will one day be rated outstanding, but added that at the moment she, and the school are under immense pressure to make rapid improvements.
Mr Lightman told delegates: "Too many ASCL members lost their jobs last year and many more are fearful that the same will happen to them because of the pressure for immediate results. They might have been able to get their schools where they needed to be if only they had been given a realistic timetable to do so with the right support. Headteachers are not commodities you can throw away and we are not exactly overwhelmed with applicants to lead the most challenging schools."
Mr Lightman called on Ofsted to recognise the situation and to "put a stop to those teams who go into some of our most challenging schools applying a deficit model of inspection which creates a culture of fear, high blood pressure and lost sleep as people await the dreaded phone call".