Fast-track route for heads in waiting

14th September 2001 at 01:00
The relaunched National Professional Qualification for Headship is proving much more popular with its target audience this time around, reports Phil Revell.

A qualification for headship. A kitemark that tells governing bodies that here is someone who can do the business.

That was the theory. But the mark-one version of the National Professional Qualification for Headship, launched in 1998, struggled to win friends and supporters.

There were complaints about the huge amount of paper generated and the didactic nature of the training. Significantly, candidates who got headships dropped out of the course.

Their previous learning and experience was not sufficiently acknowledged, argued Harry Tomlinson, professor of education at Leeds Metropolitan University.

"They're not going to get enough people," he said at the time. "There will have to be accelerated routes through the process."

The Teacher Training Agency refused to allow people to go directly to the assessment tasks. But the National College for School Leadership is now in charge, the qualification has been reviewed and one of the key changes is a fast-track route for experienced deputies.

"We've had positive feedback about the new NPQH," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "There's been increased take-up and enthusiasm, probably because the work for the qualification relates more directly to the candidate's school."

The review was carried out by Pat Collarbone from London University's Institute of Education. "Pat saw everybody and kept a tight grip on the review process," said one insider. The result is a slimmed-down, clearer-focused process.

Jane Doughty, NPQH co-ordinator at the leadership college, says:

"Assessment is now based on the school. The tutor spends a day there gaining evidence about the candidate from colleagues and the head."

There are three routes to the qualification. Route 1 - Access - is for teachers with relatively little management experience. This leads on to Route 2 - Development - which is the core programme. Route 3 - Fast-Track - is available to people who "are deemed to be very close to headship".

Route 2 candidates undergo four days of face-to-face training where the subjects include working with a governing body, shared leadership and media training.

Everybody following the qualification attends a two-day residential, an opportunity to discuss issues and examine case studies.

At Woodlands primary school in Grimsby, headteacher Robert Beel has just completed the fast-track process. Beel was an acting head when he applied for the NPQH. He came into teaching at 30, having previously been a store manager for Woolworths.

"I had skills to fall back on," he says, and there was no surprise when he was put on to Route 3.

"It started with a meeting at the end of last year and finished in July."

Robert Beel completed the initial assessment but skipped the face-to-face training, moving directly to assessment. "There was a role play - an interview with a member of staff with a problem - and an in-tray exercise," he says.

Route 3 includes the residential workshop, which Robert Beel found to be especially valuable.

"The group work was very interesting," he says, "and it was good to chew the cud with professional colleagues."

NPQH used to be financed through the Standards Fund, with LEAs making their own decisions about how much funding support would be provided. But the leadership college has wrested control of the budgets from the Department for Education and Skills and the programme is now fully funded, with money distributed through 10 regional centres.

Special school candidates have their own national centre, a recognition that headship in the sector requires specialist skills.

Four thousand teachers have "graduated" from the NPQH scheme since 1998, and a further 5,200 have signed up for the new model. But there are still doubts about whether the qualification should be regarded as mandatory for new heads from next year - the Government's goal.

Robert Beel has no regrets about taking the NPQH course but even he questions whether it should be compulsory.

"When a school is looking for a head there are times when it's the right person for the right place," he said. "It's a useful thing to have, but should it be the deciding factor? Maybe not."

The autumn NPQH recruitment round will open on October 1. See the NCSL website for details and an online application form. www.ncsl.org.uk Next week, Headlamp

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