Good headteachers are essentially good leaders, writes Anthea Millett. And leadership qualities must be measured and properly channelled. Good professional leadership is the most telling characteristic of an effective school. The best headteachers play a central role in creating a climate in which pupils are able and willing to learn and teachers have the opportunities to do the best possible job.
Demands on headteachers have multiplied in recent years, as they have adapted to managing the national curriculum, assessment and testing, appraisal, financial delegation and regular OFSTED inspection.
The National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), which we at the Teacher Training Agency are developing with the help of the profession, will stand or fall on its contribution to creating a continuing supply of headteachers who are well-prepared to lead effective and flourishing schools, where debate, challenge and improvement are the norm and where pupils get a taste for learning that will stay with them throughout their lives.
I am delighted that the rapid progress we are making in developing this first-ever professional qualification for headship is stimulating an important, trenchant and long overdue debate about what it is that marks out excellent headteachers. Some of the recent, more critical, contributions to the debate in The TES do, however, cause me concern - and should concern anyone who is interested in seeing improved standards of pupils' achievements in our schools (John Bazalgette, May 31; Mary Marsh, June 7).
There is no doubt, as should be clear from our series of papers on the NPQH, that the central issue we need to tackle is leadership, in particular how the qualities of leadership can be identified and fostered. This is not to relegate the importance of management, but simply to recognise that leadership involves more than good management skills. Management can turn on matters of process and experience, and many people in any profession can become good managers. Leadership requires very special personal qualities, which fewer people in a profession have or are able to develop.
But does this mean that leaders are marked out by an undefinable X factor, a mysterious quality evading capture? I think not, and detect a whiff of sulphur when people suggest this.
In education, we have for too long sought to hide behind our professionalism, suggesting that good teaching, good leadership and high standards can be recognised but not pinned down. Yet to believe that making standards explicit will drive out imagination, creativity and charisma is to adopt the philosophy of despair. To believe that passion and energy should displace, rather than complement, an assessment of proven experience and ability is to create false oppositions. To believe that leaders can only be born, and cannot be made, is to cut adrift from the wide pool of talent that exists in our schools.
This is why we at the Teacher Training Agency have as one of our clear priorities that, drawing on expertise inside and outside education, we should make explicit all of the key characteristics of those most likely to succeed in establishing and maintaining excellence as the headteacher of a school.
Leadership of a school, like leadership of any organisation, is to do with galvanising the organisation to achieve its ends. What distinguishes the headteacher as leader is that the ends of the school are successful pupils. The stakes, for society and the individual, could not be higher. That is why we have put high-quality teaching and learning at the heart of the NPQH.
It is pure fantasy to believe that the headteachers of the future will rise to prominence, and be accepted as leaders, by dint of their sheer charisma or will to power. The NPQH will provide the preparation for leadership that our headteachers and our children deserve. It will also provide a demanding and objective assessment that will sort out those who are ready to be leaders of schools from those who only give the appearance of being ready.
The NPQH will, I hope, see off for good the misguided longing for a lost dawn in which standards, evidence and accountability were safely shrouded in mist. To make the NPQH work, we shall need faith, hope and clarity, but the greatest of these is clarity. That, with your help, is what we shall deliver.
Anthea Millett is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency.