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From the Archive - 06.04.1984

Sir Keith takes further step towards heads' probation

The likelihood of newly appointed heads starting off on probation came a step nearer this week with the publication of a consultative paper by Sir Keith Joseph, the education secretary. This is despite the uniformly negative response from representatives of teachers' unions and local authorities when Sir Keith (pictured below) floated the idea at the Department for Education and Science conference last month on the selection of heads.

It is a measure of his determination to force the innovation on teachers and employers, both unenthusiastic, that he should still go ahead and circulate the paper. Not only will new heads in their first appointment start off on probation but they will be regularly assessed throughout their subsequent career, the paper proposes.

The plan would apply only to first-time headships. And Sir Keith allays any fears of a drift towards more central authority by emphasising that HM Inspectorate would have no part in the assessment. It would become a local authority responsibility. A new addition is that governors should also contribute to the assessment of new heads.

The argument that a two-year probationary period might deter some good applicants, especially where moving house is involved, is acknowledged, but the paper states: "It is difficult to believe that teachers sufficiently confident to apply for promotion to head would regard a probationary period as a major deterrent."

Another big difficulty, that of what local authorities are to do with those heads who do not pass the probationary period, is dismissed with: "They should be helped to find appropriate alternative employment as teachers."

The likelihood that new heads on probation would tend to "keep their heads down" and offend nobody until the two years were up is again acknowledged, but it is made clear that Sir Keith thinks that regular assessment throughout the heads' subsequent career should take care of that.

Sir Keith does not assume that a probation scheme would ensure that all heads who completed it would have no further problems. But he does think it "would lead to the termination of a small number of unsatisfactory appointments and would promote improved assessment, induction and support arrangements".

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