BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales are failing to address a leadership crisis in Catholic schools, researchers claim.
Data revealed this month showed that in the last 10 years the re-advertisement rate for headteachers of Catholic schools has risen by over 10 per cent from 44 per cent in 1997 to 58 per cent in 2006.
Professor John Howson, of the British data analysis group Education Data Surveys, which conducted the study, said it was "little short of scandalous" that the recuitment problem in the Catholic sector had not been solved. He accused the Church of "short-changing" pupils and parents by failing to address the problem and warned that unless recruitment was tackledi the difficulty of finding competent staff would worsen.
This is the 22nd annual survey undertaken by the Oxford-based company which was set up in 1994 to collate information about schools for parents, teachers and other education professionals. The figures look at the number of times posts have to be readvertised, indicating a possible problem in finding suitable recruits.
Prof Howson said the fact that over half of Catholic schools were now forced to readvertise posts was a cause for concern. "Some schools now have to advertise three or even more times before finding a permanent head ," he said. "Frankly it is time the Church got to grips with the issue and stopped short-changing the pupils. parents and teachers associated with schools. The problem has been known about for over a decade and only they can solve it."
The crisis has arisen not necessarily because of a dearth of qualified candidates but because many potential heads feel they cannot live up to the high moral standards required of a headteacher of a Catholic school. Marriage difficulties, divorce and other family problems mean many teachers feel exposed to criticism and are failing to put themselves forward.
Church of England schools have a similar problem although the crisis is less pronounced. The situation is likely to become more acute as existing headteachers reach retirement age. Education Data Surveys believes that this is likely to peak in 2009 or 2010.
The study found that Church schools attracted fewer applicants than community schools while some schools "still do not seem to be attracting any applicants at all". "The difficulty these often popular schools have in attracting headteachers should remind policy makers that competition comes with costs as well as benefits... we no longer believe that either the hierarchy of the Catholic Church or policy makers at the DIES can avoid taking urgent action to solve the problem," it said.
A report in the Times last week indicated that some Catholic schools were looking overseas to fill headteacher posts. However, a spokesman for the Catholic Education Service (CES) argued that measures were already being taken to improve recruitment and the standard of potential applicants at home.
Fr Joseph Quigley, national religious education adviser for England and Wales, said the Church took the challenge of securing school leaders very seriously indeed.
"It has established a nurturing future leaders group with this is mind," he said. "The CES is very pleased to be working closely with the National College for School Leadership as a member of its advisory board on succession planning, and in other collaborative activities."
Fr Quigley confirmed that dioceses were already running courses for aspiring headteachers. "Perhaps Prof Howson is unaware of the numerous strategies adopted across the Catholic dioceses to support and develop leadership talent," he added.
One of the problems appears to be the standard requirement for first-time heads that they have the NPQH — or National Professional Qualification for Headship. All first-time heads are required to hold or be working towards the qualification, which was introduced in 2004. From 2009 the NPQH will be mandatory.
The coursework is arduous and can take up to 15 months to complete. According to Prof Howson's team Church schools may find that they have little choice in appointments faced with only one or two suitably qualified candidates.