SURELY one of the 24,000 headteachers in England and Wales could have been found to run the new school leadership college? Tony Blair thought so when he told The TES earlier this year, "Our desire is to have a really good headteacher - someone who's got some practical experience."
That is one performance target Education Secretary David Blunkett has clearly missed. Can it really be that that he has not understood, as the Prime Minister seemed to, the symbolic importance of appointing an experienced head to this prestigious post? What is this new college for if not to inspire with a vision of effective school leadership and to endorse the status of headship as one of the highest callings an educator can aspire to?
By preferring one of its own local authority advisers, the Government seems to be saying that as far as it is concerned no existing headteacher is up to that challenge - a proposition that is as offensive as it is false. School leaders will see this as a deliberate snub. What is the point of honouring heads if in the next breath they are told the best of them cannot even be trusted to run their own staff college?
Any candidate with leadership experience both in and out of school rings important breadth to the task. But how this will be seen in schools is that David Blunkett has appointed an administrator with no experience as a head - indeed no contemporary experience at all as a teacher in a locally-managed school delivering the national curriculum in the full blaze of accountability inherent in OFSTED, league tables, governor power and parental choice.
Heather Du Quesnay has many fine qualities and is widely respected. But like Carol Adams, recently appointed chief executive of the General Teaching Council, she is no stranger at the Department for Education and Employment. Both worked on the standards task force, as did Lord Puttnam, the GTC chairman, and Ralph Tabberer, who moved from the Standards and Effectiveness Unit to take charge of the Teacher Training Agency.
Of course, talented people who advise governments should not be precluded from such posts. But throughout government it seems that only insiders with proven discretion need apply, even for a position wielding no statutory powers and which ought to involve professional rather than political judgment. Anyone would think the alternative candidate for the leadership college was Ken Livingstone.