Heather Du Quesnay is a surprise appointment following Tony Blair's pledge to teachers. Warwick Mansell reports.
THE woman chosen to lead the first centre of excellence for heads is unfazed by the prospect of taking on the high-profile role - despite never having been a head herself.
Just as it seemed there were no twists or turns left in the protracted search for a director of the National College for School Leadership, Education Secretary David Blunkett sprang a final surprise by announcing his appointee: Heather Du Quesnay.
Though Mrs Du Quesnay, aged 52, and currently interim chief executive and director of education at Lambeth council, has a wealth of experience in local government and was a deputy head, she has never been a headteacher.
She left Bartley Green girls' school, Birmingham, where she was a deputy head for five years, to take up a senior education post with Cambridgeshire County Council in 1983 and has been in local government ever since.
She was headhunted for the pound;100,000-a-year job, beating four serving heads who were shortlisted, in apparent opposition to Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge in The TES that the post would go to an "outstanding headteacher".
Union leaders praised Mrs Du Quesnay but expressed surprise that the job had gone to someone with this blank spot on her CV.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Heather carries an enormous amount of respect. But thre will be disappointment that, contrary to the Prime Minister's expectations, this appointment has not gone to a serving head."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "I'm a little surprised because she is some distance from the staffroom and classroom."
But Mrs Du Quesnay does not expect headteachers to be sceptical about her appointment.
She said: "If that is the case, I will have to get over it, but I don't feel uncomfortable about it at all.
"I was a deputy for five years, and have also played significant leadership roles in local authorities, both as director of education and in other senior posts. The most important part of these jobs has been supporting heads.
"I know what makes a good headteacher, what works in a school. I intend to use that know-ledge to communicate the value of leadership in education in this new job, which I feel terrifically excited about."
Mrs Du Quesnay, who did not apply when the directorship was originally advertised last autumn, has been credited with moving Lambeth away from mismanagement and "loony left" politics since she arrived in 1995. The borough was one of the first to embrace the public-private partnership concept of education action zones.
She is currently chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. She will formally take up the post when the new college starts work in September.