The Svenlike school leader

Diane Spencer

Skills which Tony Neal shares with the Swedish superman should help him achieve his goals as president of the Secondary Heads Association. Diane Spencer reports.

TONY Neal was sitting on top of a London bus when a Daily Telegraph reporter rang him on his mobile phone to ask his opinion of England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson following his team's astonishing 5-1 victory over Germany.

The reporter was speculating on the effect the Swedish superman might have on Britain's schools.

Mr Neal's reply was characteristically even-handed, giving credit to both managers and men. "Yes, we need him for his coolness, efficiency and intelligence. But we need a Michael Owen, too."

It was appropriate that the new Secondary Heads Association president should have been interviewed, as Mr Neal has been praised for Sven-like qualities himself. Richard Fawcett, his predecessor at SHA, says: "He is an instinctive leader; and very sensitive to colleagues."

For a newspaper seeking the views of a prominent head, Mr Neal was an obvious candidate. He has found the limelight at a crucial time.

He wrote the influential book Managing Value Added, the guide to measuring school performance which helped to convince the Government that raw data did not give a true impression of school effectiveness.

This week's White Paper includes plans for value-added league tables for national tests at 14. Mr Neal is pleased that ministers have agreed to abandon raw data, although he is not keen on publishing key stage 3 results, viewing it as another example of the Government's lack of trust in the profession.

And he is still anxious about the proposed methodology. "If that's not right, it ain't worth doing in the first place."

His love of teaching began in Cheshire at a drama summer school during his vacations from Cambridge where he read maths. His numeracy skills have since been called on as SHA's treasurer.

He has taught for 30 years, the past 16 at De Aston school, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, which he describes as "deep in the heartlands of rural deprivation".

Formative teaching years were spent in Devon at Queen Elizabeth's grammar in Crediton, which was in the process of merging with a nearby secondary modern to form a 1,600-pupil comprehensive.

"It was an exciting time to be in teaching; we were achieving great results. There was a feeling of creativity, of making things happen."

After working for a while as deputy head in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, he moved to Lincolnshire.

De Aston, a 1,300-pupil, 11 to 18 comprehensive, has a boarding house, with 70 youngsters from all over the world. "As a result of a lesser-known clause of the Maastricht Treaty any young person in the European Union can go, freely, to a state school in any other EU country. " Mr Neal says.

He is an enthusiastic member of the General Teaching Council. "We've been waiting patiently for one for 140 years. We must continue to be patient as it will take five to 10 years before it establishes itself in its role as regulator of the profession. It is vital that it succeeds.

"We have to accommodate all the various interests of the membership and make sure we don't fall into elephant traps along the way."

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Diane Spencer

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