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Labour's hopes for heads threatened

The Government's intention to make a professional qualification for heads compulsory could be compromised, according to a headteachers' leader who said the present take-up is "woefully short" of the target.

The Teaching and Higher Education Bill introducing the mandatory National Professional Qualification for Heads reached the statute book this week, but there is no date for when the qualification will become compulsory.

The Teacher Training Agency said in its annual report that it expected 5,000 applicants for the qualification by the end of 1997. It received just over 3,000 and its latest figure, 4,100, still represents a 20 per cent shortfall.

David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The NPQH is facing real difficulties in recruitment and this gives great cause for concern."

A TTA spokesman denied there was a serious problem, but admitted they wanted more primary teachers and women to apply. In the primary sector women make up 83 per cent of the staff but only 53 per cent are heads. In secondaries, 52 per cent of teachers are women, as are 24 per cent of heads. Of those taking the qualification 63 per cent are primary women and 30 per cent are secondary women.

Recruitment specialist John Howson said the pool of possible applicants is too small, even before quality or willingness to take part was considered. He said: "The shortfall in primary applicants will inevitably lead to groupings of primaries sharing one head."

The Teaching and Higher Education Bill also introduces the general teaching council and university tuition fees.

Peers backed down over the so-called Scottish anomaly after the Education Secretary promised an independent review. Further rebellion, which left English and Welsh students, unlike those from the rest of Europe and Scotland, having to pay fourth-year tuition fees at Scottish universities, would have killed the Bill.

* The Government suffered a fifth defeat in the Lords on the School Standards and Framework Bill, over school organisation committees to agree admissions. Peers were expected to accept any reversals made by MPs and both Bills should be law late next week.

Frances Rafferty

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