Full steam ahead for leaders' ship

17th February 2006 at 00:00
The National College for School Leadership still has some choppy seas to navigate. Martin Whittaker reports

Eighteen months ago the National College for School Leadership was seen as an underachiever, clearly capable, but with "could do better" stamped on its report.

Since then it insists it has been paying more attention and working much more efficiently. And now it is being rewarded with greater responsibility.

While the political furore over the Government's education white paper continues, the document gives the NCSL a pat on the back and casts it in a central role in tackling major school leadership issues.

The college will, it says, help to develop the leaders "of our most complex and challenging schools, those facing multiple disadvantage, academies and in federations".

It will also advise ministers how more people can be encouraged into school leadership roles, and help school leaders and their governing bodies to indentify and develop a new generation of "national leaders of education".

"We are pleased about the central role that the college has been given in the white paper," says the college's chief executive Steve Munby. "It's a statement of confidence that the Government has in what we're trying to do."

But has the college won the confidence of headteachers? While a review in 2004 praised the NCSL's achievements in its first three years, it highlighted heads' criticisms of patchy provision, lack of strategy and a feeling that they lacked ownership of it.

Mr Munby says the college spread itself too thinly, developing too many initiatives. One of his first actions on taking over last Easter was to speak to hundreds of headteachers on the phone and through a series of regional conferences before drawing up a new corporate plan.

He says the college needs to focus on school leadership for existing and future school leaders. "We want to be the college for all school leaders and not just for some, and (we want to feel) that every school leader feels the college has something to offer them," he says.

Mr Munby says the college's programmes arenow better tailored more to the needs of school leaders. Its role in national research and development continues. "We will make much more of an impact on leadership - that's the broad vision," he says. One major task has been to restructure the college's own leadership, reducing its management group from 30 to 20, with redundancies and new internal and external appointments. It has advertised for new staff to lead on issues including succession planning and Every Child Matters. Mr Munby says this agenda has been driven by school leaders themselves. He insists that while fulfilling its policy role and advising ministers, the college will continue listening to heads.

He welcomes the call from the School Teachers' Review Body for a study of new models of school leadership. Part of the college's job now is to rethink that role, supporting heads in managing their work-life balance and helping them to cope with changes in education.

"The role of headteacher has become highly complex and accountable," he says. "Many school leaders aren't coping with the complexities and responsibilities of the role."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, is keen to work with the college on the study.

"It seems to me to be absolutely sensible that the largest head-teachers'

union should get together with the NCSL and the Association of School and College Leaders and thrash out what this is going to look like." John Dunford, general secretary of the ASCL, says: "There's a much greater degree of confidence in the college now, and I think its role in developing school leadership is now much clearer. That won't have reached everybody in the profession yet, but over the next year I'm sure itt will be the case."

Meanwhile, the college is preparing advice to the Government on succession planning for headship - intended to identify and develop the next crop of school leaders - and guidance for governing bodies on recruitment and selection. By next month Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, wants more detailed proposals on how to accredit and identify a number of "national leaders of education" - prepared to demonstrate leadership in challenging schools - ,with the first names to be announced by April. The Department for Education and Skills also wants proposals to developa policy of charging and subsidy for college programmes, to come into effect in 2007-8.

Until now, funding has come from DfES grants and income from professional development programmes.

Will the new policy mean schools having to pay more? "That depends entirely on the size of the grant they get," says John Dunford. "Clearly a trend of more charging has already started and it's something that we will be keeping an eye on, because it could be counter-productive.

"Part of the problem is that school leaders are often reluctant to spend scarce funds on their own professional development. And if the charges were too high, that would militate against the levels of participation that are being hoped for."

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