HC Deb 03 April 1984 vol 57 cc798-9
11. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has discussed with the Government's partners in the education service his suggestions about the alternative deployment of unsatisfactory head teachers; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Keith Joseph

It was the Government's partners to whom I first put these suggestions and I shall be sending them tomorrow a consultative document on a probationary period for new head teachers. I also intend to consult them in the near future on my thinking on changing pension rules to allow head teachers to step down to less demanding posts.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we could achieve greater mobility among head teachers, and place many of them in the right posts, that might be less unsatisfactory? By that means we might achieve greater potential from what is largely a dedicated profession.

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, certainly. Head teachers deserve good treatment and I hope that the proposed change in the pension rules, if it is accepted, will help in that regard.

Mr. Freud

Will the Secretary of State look into the viability of fixed-term appointments for head teachers? Does he agree that that works well with heads of departments at universities? Is he aware that fixed-term appointments would also enable him to promote young teachers without being saddled with them for life?

Sir Keith Joseph

Fixed-term appointments, be they for head teachers or teachers, are within the power of local education authorities to grant, if they so decide. There are arguments in both directions. I do not think that any action is needed by me.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that head teachers are no different from anyone else in any other profession; in other words, that there are individuals who, through no fault of their own, will cease to be able to perform their duties satisfactorily and that there should be ways of removing them?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, indeed. Head teachers are the same as other people, although perhaps they are rather better when in their prime. If only there were a system of assessment for all teachers, including head teachers, the country, the pupils and the teachers would be much better off. That at present is nothing more than an item on the discussion agenda. However, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hardy

Everyone agrees that unsatisfactory head teachers should be eased out. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while an unsatisfactory head teacher can do a great deal of damage to the children in his school, unsatisfactory Ministers can effect a great deal of damage to a whole generation?

Sir Keith Joseph

On the evidence this afternoon, the Opposition are not showing that they have begun to grapple with the problems of government, but perhaps that is not surprising.

Mr. Lyell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality of the head teacher is probably the single most important factor in determining the quality of the school? For that reason, will he accept, in view of the questions he has been asked this afternoon, that there is support on both sides of the House for fixed-term appointments for head teachers?

Sir Keith Joseph

I accept that the head teacher is the nearest thing we have to a magic wand in connection with schools, but it does not follow from that that we should try to judge whether a fixed-term contract for head teachers would be beneficial. That is for the local education authorities.