12th July 1996 at 01:00
Joan sallis answers your questions. Is being familiar with the basics and the uses of information technology an essential qualification for a new headteacher?

I'd think it was pretty important but I don't know I would say it was an essential qualification in the same class as vision; good academic qualifications in whatever field; management skill and experience; and power to motivate and develop staff. Also much would depend on what other senior staff offer: many a head will settle for a deputy with good IT skills.

But if the candidate had no grasp of IT at all, I think I would worry about what he or she had been doing in the past 10 years. It has now such a place in all learning, and provides such sophisticated management tools, that to avoid some degree of understanding requires quite an effort. A candidate who had remained untouched would have a quaintly old-fashioned air. But communicating well with pen and voice is still pretty high on my list!

We've recently had a lot of parental anxiety about changes to our reading scheme but some of my fellow governors say this is a professional matter and we shouldn't get involved.

You are not alone. By law, governors must ensure the successful implementation of the national curriculum. But that's in broad outline - the detail of what materials and techniques to use needs professional skills. I think there are two questions to ask - how central to the successful progress of pupils are the choices being made and what impact will they have on parents or community?

There are several philosophically quite different approaches to reading. Parents know this and there are few things they get so worked up about.

In the teaching of German there is a book called Vorwarts. If our schools proposed instead to use an imaginary text called Ruckwarts, I might, knowing German, make a joke about one meaning "forward" and the other meaning "backwards". But I wouldn't consider it any of my business. I would also accept that the books were likely to serve a basically similar purpose.

If the staff were proposing to have no textbook and teach entirely through conversation it might then verge on an "issue". But on changing the book, I would assume they knew what they were doing.

If, on the other hand, I were a governor of a primary which was planning to leave behind a well-thumbed series of graded readers and teach entirely through books chosen freely by the child, personally I would be willing to be convinced. But I would also know that the change could cause parental riots.

I would expect it to be thoroughly talked through with parents as well as governors, and the benefits demonstrated with plenty of hard evidence. I would also expect a promise of close monitoring for a time. Changing from one type of graded reading scheme to another is easier, but given that it's reading and not German or physics, I would still expect it properly justified. Those who advocate change have the stronger obligation to justify it.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.


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