HL Deb 17 December 1997 vol 584 cc619-22

2.44 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the arrangements being made for the national professional qualification for headship.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, good leadership is essential to school success and our head teachers are at the heart of delivering this Government's agenda for raising standards. We welcome the work done by the Teacher Training Agency in developing the national professional qualification for headship. Last Thursday I placed on the record that, subject to further development and continued positive feedback from the pilot, we expect the NPQH to be the required qualification for all first-time heads under the provisions in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill now before your Lordships' House.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the quality of a head teacher is crucial to the success of a school? Can she therefore say in general terms what the training will cover? Will it include an assessment of personal qualities—although I accept that that can be a difficult task—the principles of management and a comprehensive knowledge of education administration? Will the scheme include provision for supply cover for any teachers who go on to head teacher training courses?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may start with the last point raised by my noble friend. We are currently considering the rules covering standards fund expenditure and reviewing the maximum of 20 per cent. of central funding that may at present be used for supply cover.

As regards the nature of the course, a great deal of it will be school-based, so that teachers who wish to obtain training for headship will not have to be released from their schools, apart from for the occasional day. There will be training on Saturdays and in school holidays.

All those who become candidates for the training will go through an initial needs assessment to look at which modules they will need to complete and to assess what kind of training they have already done. It will cover all the points which my noble friend raised, as well as something called "strategic accountability".

Lord Quirk

My Lords, has the Minister become aware of rumours that primary teachers will not get such easy access to headship training as teachers in secondary schools? If that is correct, could she ensure that primary teachers, who most certainly will be needed for headships, get every encouragement to go forward for training?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, raised an important issue. There are far more primary schools than secondary schools; therefore there are far more primary heads than secondary heads. It is absolutely vital that they should have equal access to training for headships. Because of the Government's new agenda for school standards, we are giving top priority to achieving our targets for literacy and numeracy in primary schools, so we need very well-trained primary heads. However, I shall ensure that the noble Lord's concern is drawn to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister for school standards. I have not heard the rumours.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, is the Minister able to say whether the national professional qualification includes any educational training in the area of spiritual and moral development?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, as I understand it, this is a training in management, administration and leadership rather than in those areas which specifically relate to curriculum matters. I am not aware that there is a specific module for the area, but I shall take the right reverend Prelate's concern back and find out whether any consideration is being given to it.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think the point the Minister made was that it would be obligatory for those wishing to be head teachers to go on the course. Perhaps she will confirm that. If that is the case, how will it be possible to determine who will go on it? There are the many teachers in primary schools referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and unless there are many places, they will not get on a course for a long time.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we have no intention of making the course mandatory in the first instance. We shall be building it up over several years to avoid just the kind of problem to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred. Eventually we want it to be a mandatory qualification so that all head teachers are well prepared for the enormously challenging and difficult tasks that they face in our schools.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will those who are appointed as assessors possess adequate substantial, successful and relevant teaching experience?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes. My noble friend raises an important question. A number of those who will be involved in providing the training will be high quality, successful, serving head teachers. Some of them will be LEA trainers and will have a great deal of experience in training people in local education authorities. But it is vital that those who are involved in what is sometimes called "teaching the teachers" are of good quality and have the relevant experience.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can the Minister state the Government's attitude to the cardinal principle raised by the right reverend Prelate?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, that is a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. But I can say without difficulty that the Government are absolutely committed to that aspect of the curriculum and believe that all young people should be exposed to moral, social and spiritual training or education within their school experience.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us any more about "strategic responsibility"? For instance, how does that compare with tactical responsibility in a head teacher?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I did not quite pick up my noble friend's comparison with what is defined in the new training as "strategic accountability". It is important that head teachers are accountable to their governing bodies and to the mission and strategy that their governing bodies set down for their schools. It is important that they have a broad sense of the objectives that they seek to achieve.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness feels, as I do, that she has had some valuable contributions from her noble friends as well as my noble friends. In view of her answers, is she prepared to put more flesh on the skeletal Bill that she presented to the House so that we can consider the details of the head teachers' course rather than the vague recommendations contained in the Bill?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it is not appropriate, after 16 minutes of Starred Questions, for me to go into great detail about the Bill. That is difficult to do. However, later we will do our best to do so.

Lord Howell

My Lords, recognising the need for the management of a curriculum in most of our schools, and bearing in mind the importance of literacy and numeracy, will this course also have regard to the fact that some subjects which ought to be included, such as physical education, are not now finding their rightful place? Will this course ensure that they do?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, once again I should say that this is a course to prepare head teachers for their leadership responsibilities. Part of that responsibility is to make absolutely sure that the national curriculum, and other parts of the curriculum that are regarded as essential to the successful education of young people, are properly covered in their schools.