The news that the DfE is to sell the National College headquarters and conference centre in Nottingham is a great shame. The purpose built centre was opened by Tony Blair and marked the culmination of a long campaign to secure a headquarters for leadership research and training in the school sector. The closure shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the Home Office decided some time ago to close Bramshill, the police leadership training college in Hampshire. Clearly, the trend is against expensive residential centres serving relatively few participants. Courses can be held in hotels without the need for expensive overheads; at least one assume that is the theory. The Civil Service College seems to operate from a small base and no doubt the school sector can provide courses from a base anywhere in the country. However, the MoD still maintains the Defence Academy at Shrivenham and the Fire Services also have a residential college.
Now, maybe there is something different about the uniformed services when compared with education that requires a residential site for postgraduate training, although a look at the courses offered by the Defence Academy shows many in areas such as leadership, equality and diversity, finance, personnel and policy that could have general applicability to a wider range of spheres than just defence.
More importantly, there remains the need to for a strategy to ensure effective leadership development across the whole of the school system. Labour both introduced and then abolished a mandatory qualification for headship – the NPQH – and the coalition further downgraded professional development. A failure to pay attention to the pipeline into school leadership across the country as a whole is partly to blame for the current challenges some schools are facing recruiting senior leaders.
Of course, the main reason for recruitment difficulties is probably the fact that the risk-reward ratio has tipped too far in the direction of headship being a risk. Take a headship on in your early 40s, as many historically have done and failure, as judged by Ofsted, could mean the end to your career 20 years before retirement. At least most football managers that get sacked are hired by another team soon afterwards. Unless that scenario develops in education, where it is recognised that the individual in the head’s study is rarely the sole reason for the outcome of the inspection, nobody will want to take on the risk of a headship unless they are certain it isn’t a failing or coasting school and could never become such a school.
The announcement of the sale of the Nottingham campus would have been an excellent time to split the remaining leadership and training functions for school leaders from the recruitment arm of the business and to re-establish the teacher training and recruitment body as a separate institution.
There will be many that mourn the passing of the Nottingham site into leadership history. There will be many more that will suffer if the government doesn’t do everything possible to ensure the next generation of school leaders are available to take on the jobs as they fall vacant.