The new National Professional Qualification for Subject Leaders proposed by the Teacher Training Agency is an invitation to as many as 200,000 primary and secondary teachers - almost half the teaching profession - to have their management responsibilities and subject expertise formally accredited against a national standard.
The TTA's consultation document on the new qualification talks about the skills, abilities, knowledge and understanding required for the role and the major contribution subject leaders make to improving schools and to raising pupil achievement. Pedagogic leadership is a pervasive theme.
The skills and tasks envisaged for the new qualification range from instilling clear educational values and dealing sensitively with other people to the challenge of lead-ing through example, instruction, support and target-setting. The professional knowledge required highlights the recurrent theme of raising achievement with particular reference to national standards in the subject.
It is in the very comprehensiv eness of the NPQSL that its problems and challenges lie. This award is aimed simultaneously at the experienced primary teacher in a small school who co-ordinates two or three major subjects and at the head of faculty in a large secondary school who may have as many as 20 staff, many of whom are specialists in the sub-sets of - say - science.
We applaud the Teacher Training Agency's vision for successful practice across such diverse examples. However, the success of the NPQSL will depend on maintaining credibility with all its audiences.
The larger the role - for instance, head of English in a secondary school - the more opportunities there are, usually, for:uengaging in professional development which builds towards the awarduacquiring the kind of evidence which will be requireduobtaining experiences that meet all the criteria in the awarduexercising leadership as oppos-ed to co-ordinating peersuidentifying with the achievements of those studying that subject.
This could seriously disadvantage primary subject leaders. And there are even further challenges in the compression of roles in the three or four-teacher school typical of large parts of England and Wales. In the small school, if you discount the headteacher you are left, typically, with two or three teachers, all leading subjects in the school. Should they all be looking to NPQSL? Or should some of them rather be aiming at the new expert teacher standard promised by the TTA?
Conversely, in the large secondary school so typical of urban England should the new award only address the 20 to 30 per cent of staff with defined subject leadership responsibility? If so, what of the accreditation needs of year group heads and others with substantial leadership roles which do not conform to a standard subject descriptor? The new qualification is liable to attract much of the currently available funding for in-service training so its credibility and targeting are crucial.
The mechanism for obtaining NPQSL status is still undefined. The document suggests a range of possible activities in-cluding traditional off-site training, mentoring, work-based projects and attachments. The model of delivery appears to have five options including a regional arrangement along the lines of the the new headteachers' qualificatio n, a monolithic national distance-learning structure, a franchising option (accredited providers developing modules within the national standards) a licensing option (trainers run local modules within a standardised curriculum) and a no-training option (simply focus NPQSL on the assessment end).
Assessment is bound to be contentious since it renews debate on process versus product and education versus training. While there is no suggested comprehensive test of fitness proposed, there is the suggestion that success will require a combination of:usuccessful training modules completeduvalidated portfolio evidence ua measure of credit for prior achievement.
The award itself, it is suggested, will be conferred either by nationally accredited centres or by individual accredited national assessors.
The real challenge here will be to provide something which is workable at a local or regional level. The potential scale of the subject leadership award combined with the absence of new money suggest that the large majority of aspirants will build towards, be assessed for, and be awarded the qualificati on within quite small geographical regions. This surely points to a significant role for local authorities and to a further localising of the somewhat unwieldy regional confederations for the heads' qualification.
The new TTA bidding arrangements for the support of teacher in-service training in universities means the agency is now well placed to use its funding muscle to promote workable local partnerships of universities, LEAs and others to underpin the management of NPQSL.
The subject leader qualification is aimed at such a large number of teachers that it cannot fail to promote real change in career planning and career perceptions. It will affect Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST), school based in-service and the structure of university professional development courses. It is certain to influence appraisal for this large group of teachers. Its very existence, alongside the other new career stages and standards identified, may even point the way to reform of salary structures.
If the qualification gains the credibility it deserves, then any school of any size will soon recognise a group of staff who will demand recognition of their aspirations under NPQSL. The consultation must therefore address the contradictions evident in the document ahead of the avalanche of demand which will be unleashed once trials begins. The primarysecondary issue needs particular attention as do the assessment criteria.
There are dangers in having NPQSL driven solely by assessment criteria. Just how difficult will it be to obtain this award? And will it be competitive so that a significant number are bound to fail?
Gary Holmes is head of the School of Professional Education and Development at Leeds Metropolitan University. Harry Tomlinson is a principal lecturer in the school and is manager of the NPQH training and development centre for Yorkshire and Humberside