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Headship matters in the home from home

Headteachers, deputies and aspiring heads in the London area now have a home from home in which to hone their leadership skills. The London Leadership Centre, launched last week at the London Institute of Education, is intended to create a network of school leaders across the capital who will share expertise (and problems), working together to raise standards, writes Josephine Gardiner.

"Leadership" is a buzzword that is being heard increasingly often in education. In part this is a reflection of the changes in educational organisation - with local management and the erosion of local authority support, the quality of individual schools now depend far more heavily on the quality of the head. Recognition of this fact has been reinforced recently by evidence that failing schools almost always have trouble at the top - The Ridings in Halifax being the most high-profile example.

A third development has been the idea that effective leadership is something that can and should be learnt, rather than appointing new heads and leaving them to sink or swim - the development of the Teacher Training Agency's National Professional Qualification for aspiring heads (to be launched formally on February 26) is the result of this.

Launched on Thursday last week, the Leadership Centre will be first in Britain, following in the footsteps of similar centres in Australia, Canada, Singapore and the United States. As well as offering training courses and access to the latest university research and educationists, it is hoped that the centre will act as a talking shop where heads can compare experiences.

Pat Collarbone, who has resigned as head of Haggerston School to become director of the centre, surveyed 180 heads in London to find out what aspects of the job they found particularly difficult and what they wanted from a leadership centre. Specific management training, such as coping with budgets, health and safety, legal and personnel issues, and stress management were all seen as important. One head said that she was particularly concerned about "increasing numbers of litigious parents making damages claims or allegations of negligence, supported by lawyers and the legal aid system".

But by far the most frequently mentioned difficulty was in dealing with staff: resolving arguments, motivating people, criticising them with tact, and coping with staffroom politics and relations with governors. Also high on the agenda was how to present the school positively to parents and local community, and how to deal with the media.

The London Leadership Centre, 10 Woburn Square, London WC1H ONS. Tel: 0171 612 6617

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