A more flexible approach to training heads

4th April 2008 at 01:00
Headship has changed enormously since 2001, when the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) was last revised. The role is more accountable, with new responsibilities and greater expectations. There is also more interdependence and collaboration; the Every Child Matters local partnerships mean headteachers now work much more closely with other heads and with services concerned with children's welfare.

Headship is faster moving and more complicated, but the qualification - successful as it has been in helping to produce an exceptional generation of heads - now needs a significant update.

At the start of the National College for School Leadership's NPQH review 20 months ago, we spoke to thousands of school leaders around the country. Strong themes emerged that reinforced our judgement: too many people were gaining the qualification and not moving on to headship; it was becoming a leadership development programme for senior leaders, rather than a qualification for headship. It was also too inflexible and generic; a one-size-fits-all qualification that didn't take enough account of the increasingly complex and diverse contexts heads are now working in.

Set this against a big demographic shift. Nearly a quarter of heads aged over 55 are preparing to retire in the next five years. We need more leaders to step into the positions of those "baby boomers" and prevent a leadership vacuum. The qualification needs to attract applicants who see themselves in the headteacher's chair now - not two or three years down the line.

Now the review is complete and we are welcoming the first applicants on to the revised NPQH. They will find a qualification with many radical new features, and firm foundations built on feedback from the 30,000 graduates who have passed since it began in 1997.

The revised qualification has a stronger entry assessment stage to determine an applicant's readiness for headship. It is also more personalised and flexible, allowing each trainee head to identify and build on their strengths, address gaps and take full control of their learning. And it is much more practical and school-based, with a placement in another school, an entitlement to a coach and a faster progression to graduation.

I'm confident our changes will make the difference. More trainees will be ready for headship on graduation, confident and prepared, whatever the school's context. We are also looking to provide better continuing support so that, once in post, new heads won't feel isolated.

My hope for the revised qualification is that it will inspire, challenge and support prospective heads and attract people with the passion and commitment to make a difference to the lives of children and adults. And that will be good news for everyone because excellent leadership is the foundation of excellent schools.

Steve Munby, Chief executive, National College for School Leadership.

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