Leaders to pick the qualities needed of their successors

The Prime Minister may consider England a Christian country, but one wonders whether his Education Secretary, of Scottish heritage, agrees with his leader on this point. His recent announcement of a review of leadership standards for head teachers, a term now generally concatenated in to a single word, is singularly light on expertise in leading faith run primary schools; Christian or otherwise, despite their importance to the school system. But then the review group also lacks any obvious member from higher education, despite the work of staff at the London Institute, Cambridge university, and Roehampton University, to mention but a few of the many universities that have worked in this area for many years. Presumably, the government places higher value on practitioners rather than on thinkers and researchers, especially in the education field. Even Roy Blatchford, a member of the group and possibly a key adviser to David Laws, even though he isn’t known to be a Liberal Democrat, was a former head teacher.

At least the special school sector is represented on the group, but it is questionable why, if this complex sector needs but one representative, the more straightforward tasks of running primary and secondary schools need so many more leaders to discuss the standards required of their successors. Fortunately, the token governor comes from a community school to balance the three representative from academies, whether convertor of as part of chains. The apparent omission of anyone from a free school or the new breed of 14-18 technical schools may mean that the debate is not as wide ranging as it perhaps ought to be, but we shall see.

How radical the group will be at this end of a parliament when, unless their suggestions can be introduced by ministerial fiat, there won’t be time for legislation to alter existing rules will be interesting. Will they stray into territory more appropriately the ground of the School Teachers’ Review Body, currently in search of a new Chair following the current incumbents move to another Quango after just two years in office.

One area that really does need review is the nature and purpose of Executive Heads, and where headship ceases and a different sort of leadership takes over. The Americans have this line delineated between Principals and Superintendants, and historically here it was between heads and Education Officers. But, with many heads now earning more than Directors of Children’s Services despite many fewer responsibilities the present system is clearly in need of an overhaul.

At least the gender balance of the review group has been weighted in the right direction, although one might have welcomed the presence of a middle leader juggling a young family and a career to be able to talk about current pressures on career development, especially for late entrants to the profession.

After the abolition of the mandatory NPQH the group might start by asking the Secretary of State whether he actually believes in national standards of performance assessment and recruitment, and if so whether that is for all qualified staff or just leaders of schools, however defined. Headship is not a task for the faint hearted, and the group might ponder what might make recruitment, especially in primary schools, easier than it traditionally has been. However, without an obvious Roman Catholic on the group, it is doubtful whether they will reach a helpful answer.