Hawker takes on the load

10th December 2004 at 00:00
There are already mutterings over the choice of successor to NAHT leader David Hart. Can David Hawker convince heads he is up to the job? Graeme Paton reports.

The man chosen to lead the largest headteachers' union is no stranger to the problems of the workforce deal.

David Hawker is director of children, families and schools at Brighton and Hove, the council at the centre of a bitter row with its support staff, who were due to strike today.

The choice of Mr Hawker, 50, by the National Association of Head Teachers'

executive, may come as a surprise to its 30,000 members. He is a former languages teacher who has worked in education for almost 30 years, including seven at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, where he helped shape national policy over key stage tests.

At the QCA he managed key stage 3 English tests during a two-year boycott by heads and was an assistant chief executive when anger mounted over assessment levels in Sats five years ago.

For the past 12 months he has also been involved in a local stand-off with unions over workforce remodelling. Schools in Brighton have been forced to close for three days in the past three weeks, as 800 support staff walked out over pay.

Members of Unison and the GMB union claim the council wants to cut the number of weeks support staff are paid to fund a pay rise needed to implement the agreement.

Funding of the deal has already split the NAHT. Members threatened to boycott talks over the deal last month, complaining heads did not have the money to free 10 per cent of teachers' working week for planning, preparation and assessment.

Mr Hawker said, "Workforce remodelling is not just about 10 per cent time in the budget. It is about how the school operates. It means thinking through roles at every level and how the school team works together."

Initial reaction to the executive's choice indicates that there may be trouble ahead for him. Senior figures within the union say they are unconvinced that Mr Hawker, one of three candidates shortlisted, is the right person to win the best deal for the NAHT.

One executive member said: "I was unimpressed and I would not be surprised if someone else is put forward to challenge him."

Under union rules, Mr Hawker will be confirmed as the NAHT's leader in the new year unless at least three regions support an alternative candidate. A national vote would then take place.

But Mr Hawker - who, like David Hart, the present general secretary, insists pulling out of the workforce deal would be a disaster - is convinced his experience means he is the best man for the job. "Workforce remodelling is going well but we stand a much better chance of securing the resources to move it on if we remain in negotiations with the Government," he said.

He believes he is stepping in at a time when the role of heads is going through a huge transformation. "The profession is in a critical period of transition," he said. "Headteachers and school leaders are central to those changes and that's why I see this as such an important job."

But workforce reform will not be Mr Hawker's only focus. Unsurprisingly, he believes local power should remain in the hands of local education authorities, a stance likely to win friends among the NAHT's membership, mostly drawn from primary schools. He has criticised the Government for giving secondary heads more autonomy over admissions.

He is a keen supporter of plans for "extended schools" that provide a range of community services and of linking education and social services. He was instrumental in Brighton's move in 2002 to create one of the country's first children, families and schools departments, which bring together all departments dealing with children. He has also championed this integrated model nationally and as vice-chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers this year helped rename the organisation the Association of Directors of Education and Children's services.

But other pet projects of his have backfired spectacularly. Two years ago Brighton council entered into a pound;105m private finance initiative contract with Jarvis to rebuild four schools. But the project has been dogged with problems. Disastrously, one school, East Brighton college of media arts, is to close next year, costing the local taxpayer more than pound;4 million in penalties.

At the same time, not all Brighton heads have been happy with his leadership style which has led to a series of confrontations with school leaders. He has taken legal action against one school over its admission policies and sacked the chair of governors from another school. Secondary heads have even pulled out of their regular meetings with him.

One disgruntled head leaving the authority in late 2002 wrote a letter - leaked to the local paper - likening Mr Hawker to Star Trek's Mr Spock. "It is symptomatic of his Vulcan tendencies that I have received no good wishes for next year," he wrote.

This confrontational style, according to one former colleague, was evident at the QCA. "I don't think he was an easy man to work with and I found he could be quite secretive at times," said the colleague, who worked with Mr Hawker for five years in the 90s.

But Gareth Mathewson, immediate past president of the NAHT, said: "We were looking for someone who is going to be an effective leader of the NAHT. We wanted someone who understood the implications of all the planned changes and what they mean for school leaders."


Born: Lewes, East Sussex February 11, 1954

Married with two children aged 16 and 13

Education: Whitgift independent school, Croydon; Northampton grammar; Oxford university

Qualifications: French German BA; Languages PGCE

Hobbies: Travel, walking, music (clarinet), squash

Career:197778: Languages teacher, Bablake independent school, Coventry 197885: Languages teacherhead of languages, Southbrook comprehensive, Daventry (now closed) 198586: Examinations officer, Oxford board 198689: Examinations secretary, Institute of Linguists 198992: Education adviser, Calderdale council 199299: Key stage 3 assessment officer, then head of curriculum and assessment, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 199904: Director of educationdirector of children, families and schools, Brighton and Hove council

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