FLAGSHIP plans to give more power to headteachers have been dealt a blow after new figures showed nearly 30 schools have been unable to recruit senior staff.

Scottish Government statistics found there were 29 permanent vacancies of secondary headteachers and deputes in the current school year – virtually the same as the previous year when there were 30 unfilled posts.

The vacancies are significant because they come at a time when John Swinney, the Education Secretary, is planning to give more responsibility to heads as part of a drive to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

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READ MORE: Teacher shortages see hundreds of unfilled posts in key subjects

Mr Swinney has recently launched a consultation on empowering schools which contains plans for a new Headteachers’ Charter – which will allow them to shape the curriculum, decide on how funding is allocated and choose staff.

But he has been warned that without a review of the current responsibilities of headteachers and their levels of pay it will be even harder to recruit senior staff in future.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents the secondary sector, said a range of issues was putting off prospective heads including pay, bureaucracy and career structure.

He said: “In the short term nothing has changed in terms of removing obstacles to make the job more attractive.

“The increasing complexity of the task, the increasing demands and the failure to recognise the importance of increasing the base level salary are all factors.

“The fact there is not much differential in some cases between the job of a deputy and a headteacher is also a disincentive to people moving up.”

However, Mr Thewliss said in the longer term there was optimism that things would get better.

He added: “Mr Swinney has agreed to look at headteachers’ pay and we hope that will start to oil the wheels.

“There is an opportunity with the Headteachers’ Charter to put us in control of our own destiny, but we are absolutely clear we need extra resources to fund business managers to help us run schools.”

READ MORE: Teacher shortages see hundreds of unfilled posts in key subjects

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Deputes and Headteachers in Scotland (AHDS), which represents primary schools, said the reality was worse than the figures suggested.

He said: “I know many members in acting headteacher posts and others who are running two or more schools on a temporary basis.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said the long-term headteacher vacancies were a “big worry” for parents and pupils.

She said: “It is also a big worry for John Swinney who has set considerable store by his new reforms which will see heads handed more responsibility.

“This whole programme of reform depends on headteacher leadership and if they cannot be found in sufficient number then these reforms will founder.”

The move to empower heads has been set out in a consultation on a new Education Bill, called Empowering Schools.

The Scottish Government intends to create a Headteachers’ Charter, set to become law in 2018, which will transfer significant responsibilities from councils to schools.

The document has raised the prospect of a review of headteacher pay, which unions have been lobbying for.

Mr Swinney said: “I have been clear that headteachers should be leaders of learning in their schools.

“Through our Education Bill we are committed to giving headteachers significant new powers and influence.

“Our Headteachers’ Charter is designed to empower headteachers and allow them greater decision making in the running of schools.

“In turn we will provide an enhanced leadership support package to build the capacity of headteachers as they take on more empowered roles.”

READ MORE: Teacher shortages see hundreds of unfilled posts in key subjects

The government will also develop a recruitment campaign for heads in 2018.