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Stalled or subject to abortion?;Middle Managers;Training;School Management

Many headteachers are willing to pay for mentoring for their staff The new qualification for subject leaders may not materialise, says Phil Revell, but the standards are still there

Twelve months ago, Graham Lyon, the senior teacher responsible for professional development at Abraham Darby School in Telford, Shropshire, briefed staff on the Teacher Training Agency's proposed qualifications. Heads of department and co-ordinators were told to keep an eye out for the National Professional Qualification for Subject Leaders. "But now it all seems to have gone very quiet," he says.

Phil Lambert, staff development co-ordinator at Aldersley High School in Wolverhampton, was also puzzled when news of the qualification failed to materialise in the autumn term. Heads of department at Aldersley had turned down other training because the NPQSL was imminent. Now, it seems, it may not happen at all.

Consultation was completed in February last year and draft standards were published last summer. Development should have taken place in the autumn, but the agency now says that ministers will decide this summer on the shape of the qualification "if there is to be one".

That phrase from Frankie Sulke at the agency reveals the way the debate has moved since the NPQSL was first mooted. In the consultation period, Gary Holmes and Harry Tomlinson at Leeds Metropolitan University highlighted the qualification's main problem: its comprehensive catch-all nature. An award aimed simultaneously at the experienced primary practitioner in a small rural school and at the head of faculty in a large urban comprehensive.

The success of the qualification, said Holmes and Tomlinson, would depend on maintaining credibility with all its audiences. Since then the situation has been muddied by the refining of the primary curriculum and the new emphasis on numeracy and literacy, leading some teachers to ponder whether "subject leader" will be an appropriate term to use ina primary context.

Overhanging all this is the continuing stranglehold on funding by the Treasury. It seems possible that the new qualification will not appear at all, a prospect the TTA seems quite relaxed about.

"Our remit from the DFEE (Department for Education and Employment) asked us to provide further advice on professional qualifications," said Frankie Sulke. "That we will do in July. The standards have been published and we are very keen to see them being used. But the standards and the qualification are not joined at the hip."

There is a possibility, therefore, that the Government could quietly abandon the actual qualification and content itself with ensuring that those providing training were keeping to the published standards.

Those standards are already being used. John Jagger, a senior adviser with Calderdale, says training for middle managers is being refocused on the Teacher Training Agency's guidelines. The new Standards Fund for staff-development will almost certainly require schools to purchase in-service training which meets the appropriate national standards.

Independent consultants want to ensure that what they offer aligns with the agency's structure. Bernard Abrams from Education Management Associates argues: "Every provider will look at the standards and aim to meet the mark - publication has been useful in that respect."

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