Major doubts have been raised over the future of the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) after news that its chief executive has left the agency to take up a position at the Ministry of Justice.
As revealed by TES online this week, Charlie Taylor is stepping down from his role at the NCTL to join the MoJ, where he is expected to focus on youth offending. Mr Taylor will be reunited with Michael Gove, the justice secretary, who appointed the former headteacher as his behaviour expert in 2011 during his time as education secretary.
The NCTL was set up by the Labour government in 2000, moving into its flagship conference centre and headquarters in Nottingham in 2002 at a cost of pound;24 million. It trained thousands of future school leaders in the years that followed. In 2010, much of its independence was eroded when coalition ministers made it an executive agency of the Department for Education.
Now senior figures in education have raised serious doubts about whether the NCTL will continue to exist in its current, semi-independent form, suggesting that many of its functions could be taken over by civil servants in the DfE.
News of the departure of Mr Taylor came just weeks after the organisation announced that it would sell its conference centre to save money.
According to Professor John Howson, an honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford, a combination of impending government cuts to the NCTL, a looming teacher recruitment crisis and a less-than-attractive salary is likely to put off many potential applicants to the role.
"The secretary of state can either try to find a replacement, which would pose serious challenges in itself, or they could bring teacher training and professional development back into a unit of the DfE," Professor Howson said.
"The job of managing the NCTL could be handed to one or more civil servants. The name of the National College could disappear and we could move back to a Teacher Training Agency that was first introduced in the early 1990s by Kenneth Clarke."
A need for innovation
These predictions were echoed by Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said that much of the NCTL's remit could be brought back in-house.
"The development of leadership needs to be in the hands of the profession a lot more. The regulatory aspect and teacher supply should be an issue for the DfE. That takes us back to having a Teacher Training Agency, but there is a need for someone innovative and creative to oversee teacher recruitment and quality within that."
During his time at the NCTL, Mr Taylor was tasked with overseeing the introduction of School Direct, the school-led system of teacher training. The initiative - in which trainees are recruited by schools that buy in training from a university or school-centred provider - has had a difficult start.
The programme managed to fill just 68 per cent of its places in 2013 and only 61 per cent in 2014, adding to fears of a full-blown teacher recruitment crisis. Ninety per cent of places were filled on university PGCE courses.
Steve Munby, former chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, which was eventually replaced by the NCTL, said Mr Taylor had been in a difficult position as a result of the body being too close to government.
"The current NCTL role is nothing like the role that I had for most of my time as CEO. When I was there we tried to position the National College as an organisation that belonged to the government of the day and to the school leaders in England," Mr Munby said. "Once it had become a government agency, this became increasingly hard to achieve."
For it to function properly, education secretary Nicky Morgan must clarify its purpose, he added. "I think the government needs to decide, in particular, what it wants to do about school leadership development going forward, as this has not had priority in recent years."
In his new role at the MoJ, it is understood that Mr Taylor will oversee the youth justice brief and seek to inform policy on young offenders. He will draw on his experience as former headteacher of The Willows, a special school in North London for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
A DfE spokesperson said: "We do not comment on speculation around staffing matters."
From education to justice
Charlie Taylor (pictured) is one of several Department for Education officials to make the move to the Ministry of Justice.
Former education secretary Michael Gove left the DfE in 2014 after four years. He worked briefly as government chief whip before taking on the role of justice secretary.
Sir Theodore Agnew joined the MoJ in June as a non-executive board member, after five years in the same position at the DfE.
Gabriel Milland was head of communications at the DfE for two years, leaving in May to run external communications at the MoJ.