Ruth Kelly, the new Education Secretary, has stripped the National College for School Leadership of one of its major responsibilities. Ms Kelly wrote to the college just five days after being promoted outlining a series of reforms, seen by many as an attempt to tighten control over it.
The move followed the publication of a mixed report by the Department for Education and Skills last summer which said the college, set up in 1999 to train and support heads and deputies, had grown too quickly and was at risk of losing focus.
In one of her first actions as Education Secretary, Ms Kelly said that the National Remodelling Team, responsible for leading reforms designed to cut teachers' workload, which has been based at the college since July 2003, should be taken out of its hands.
Ms Kelly said responsibility and funding for the remodelling team should be transferred to the Teacher Training Agency from April. She said the decision was to tie in with the TTA's new remit, which includes responsibility for training teaching assistants.
Ms Kelly also announced that a specialist sponsor unit within the DfES to act as "gatekeeper" to the college which will monitor and prioritise its work.
The measures coincide with the appointment of Steve Munby, Knowsley's director of education, as the college's new chief executive.
In Ms Kelly's letter to Vanni Treves, chair of the NCSL's governing council, she calls on the college to reduce its administration costs by 15 per cent over the next three years, including a cut of pound;340,000 in 20056. She also recommends a "significant overhaul" of its leadership programme for serving heads.
She said the course, designed to stretch heads who have already settled into the job, should do more to identify "the variety of opportunities and roles" open to them in the future. And she said that the college should consider whether further training for "complex" roles such as heads of academies or school federations was necessary.
Ms Kelly said the college had a key role to play and praised its record over the past five years. "There has never been more need for a National College for School Leadership," she said. "Effective school leadership is at the heart of improved performance. We have the best ever generation of school leaders, of teachers and support staff; and standards of pupil attainment are rising."
A college spokesman said the decision to transfer workforce reform to the TTA "made sense" and was not opposed by the college.
Mr Treves said: "We will be reviewing college activity to ensure it is increasingly modular, personalised, and backed by on-line learning opportunities and supported by rigorous evaluation and impact assessment."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the letter reflected a lack of leadership shown to NCSL by the DfES over the past five years. "I don't think the department has recognised how to use the college properly," he said.
"It is the college's role to reflect ministers' policy in the way it maps out its path, but it is obvious that the Government has not been clear about its expectations."
A source close to the college said, "A few months ago there were rumours that there would be massive cuts but that hasn't happened. While the college needs to refocus it will not be as severely pruned as first thought. There have been a lot of positive moves towards the college by the DfES recently."
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