HL Deb 27 October 1998 vol 593 cc1816-8

3.5 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

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

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, this Government acknowledge the crucial role played by heads in our drive to raise standards in schools. Last week we announced our plans to establish a new national college for school leadership and that £25 million would be available next year for the training of new heads and to improve the skills of existing heads.

Meanwhile, 4,900 candidates are currently undergoing training, of which some 80 have already qualified. A number have been appointed to headship posts. The new qualification has been subject to careful evaluation throughout its development. The feedback has been positive in showing the training has developed candidates' management and leadership skills. I believe the qualification is well on track.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the warm welcome which has been given to that long overdue training qualification? However, is there not a danger that its requirement for applicants for headships may be implemented too soon, having regard to the large number of early retirements which have been taken by head teachers? In addition, will my noble friend give an assurance that all the teachers' unions are being properly and consistently consulted on all the changes that are taking place in relation to that matter?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am aware of the warm welcome which has been given to this new qualification. Indeed, an evaluation carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research endorses the fact that many people are strongly in favour of that new approach.

The teachers' unions have been consulted about the new arrangements. The Government are well aware of the need to monitor the introduction of the new qualification. They will not introduce a statutory requirement for all head teachers to have that qualification until they are confident that the pool of teachers available with it is sufficiently large to meet the vacancies for head teachers.

Lord Tope

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is still the Government's intention to make the NPQH compulsory before the next general election? Will she agree that rather than backing down on that commitment, it would be better to take practical steps to make headship a much more attractive proposition, particularly at primary school level?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I confirm that the Government intend to introduce this qualification by the year 2002, before the end of this Parliament. I accept entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said about the need to do all we can to encourage good teachers to become head teachers. The Government are looking at various approaches to that end. They have also asked the School Teachers' Pay Review Body in particular to consider the position for primary head teachers where there is a greater shortage than at secondary level.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, does the Minister agree with an editorial in The Times last week that, while school heads must indeed be properly trained in personnel and budgetary management, everything depends on the job description "Head Teachers" and that nothing must diminish the role of teaching if we are to have heads who retain the respect of their fellow teachers and their pupils?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. The new training has four modules to it, some of which are concerned with resource allocations, strategic leadership and management matters; but there is also a module which deals with teaching and learning. It is extremely important that head teachers are a model for the rest of their staff in relation to those questions of teaching and learning.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in applying the welcome new policy of training head teachers to do a job which has changed out of all recognition in the past 15 years, will the Government avoid falling into the trap of making requirements for primary heads of single entry forms the same as for heads of multiple-entry secondary schools? Will they further consider, in those big multiple entry schools, recreating something like the bursarship which existed in the private sector, so that some academic responsibility can remain with academically qualified head teachers?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it is the case that the job of being the head of a small primary school is rather different to the job of being the head in a large comprehensive school. The training programmes devised under the new scheme will take that into account. Indeed, each applicant will be assessed according to their existing qualifications and experience. The programme that they follow will be modelled according to their specific needs.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend consider it desirable that those employed by Ofsted to inspect our schools should possess or be encouraged to possess that qualification?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it would not be appropriate for everybody who carries out Ofsted inspections to go through a training designed for head teachers. However, I entirely agree with my noble friend that it is desirable for many Ofsted inspection teams to include people with experience as heads or deputy heads.