The PM insists on an outstanding candidate to create a cadre of charismatic heads.
TONY BLAIR wants an "outstanding headteacher" to bring on a new generation of dynamic, charismatic school leaders who will modernise the nation's education system.
The Prime Minister, in an exclusive interview with The TES, said he wanted someone with the "practical experience" of running a school to take on his pet project, the National College for School Leadership.
Despite a week which has left the Government bruised over its handling of the National Health Service, Mr Blair restated his commitment to raising standards in education, calling it "the most important national purpose for us in the first few years of the 21st century".
But success rested on creating a "cadre" of young and dynamic headteachers - a new generation who would have to be coaxed out of the classroom through greater incentives and support.
"There are a lot more leaders in the system that we have not brought out," he said. The early retirement programme launched last year which has seen almost 300 heads in their late 50s quit is to be extended. It will free up more space at the top by offering a route out for those heads who, according to Mr Blair, "cannot rise to the challenges".
As a prime minister whose success is founded on his own charisma, Mr Blair has attached great importance to school leadership.
By demanding a headteacher as director of the national college, he appears to have overridden the Department for Education and Employment, which failed to find acandidate first time round and in its second trawl was leaning towards the business sector.
Mr Blair reaffirmed his pledge to modernise the education system through specialist schools and by creating the opportunities and pay structure to draw in talented young graduates.
And despite concerns that the crisis in the NHS would divert money from education, he held out the prospect of more cash. Improvement "will take time and it will take investment", he said, while cautioning against talk of an election "war chest".
"I want to get to a position when teachers and headteachers are regarded in the community as people of real standing," he said. "Pay is not the only problem - but it's one signal we can send out that, look, education is a priority."
Ministers today held out an olive branch to heads by relaxing the rules on exclusions which had provoked huge opposition. In new guidance, Education Secretary David Blunkett made clear that pupils could be expelled for first offences where violence was involved.
Mr Blair said: "Headteachers must have the ability to run their school properly. We have no desire whatsoever to have other children's education disrupted."
The bureaucracy surrounding short-term exclusions will also be cut back, with cases referred to governors' discipline committees for exclusions of more than 15 days a term only, compared to five at present. That will require legislation, but in the meantime, governors will be given longer to consider cases. The moves were warmly welcomed by headteachers' unions.