Heads put through their paces

7th September 2001 at 01:00
A tough leadership course is leaving headteachers battered and bruised - but many say it's the best training they have ever had. Phil Revell reports

STAFF at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham may have to wait until next summer before they can move into their brand new building on the campus of Nottingham University, but a strategic review of headteacher training is already under way.

The two main programmes are the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers - for prospective heads - and the Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers (LPSH). Both programmes have been running since 1998, alongside Headlamp, which is a more personal professional development programme for heads. The national college assumed responsibility for all headteacher training in April.

Over the next three weeks The TES will review these in-service programmes for heads, beginning with what some people see as the most demanding of the three - the LPSH.

ABOUT 8,000 headteachers have completed the Leadership Programme for Serving Heads since 1998 and a further 1,000 are signed up so far for the coming year.

The LPSH is available in England and was developed in partnership with management consultants Hay McBer, the Open University, Business in the Community and the National Association for Head Teachers. The programme involves:

* a confidential analysis of personal and school performance;

* a four-day workshop;

* an opportunity to join the Partners In Leadership scheme, meeting a senior business leader to discuss common leadership challenges;

* access to the LPSH website and electronic discussion groups;

* a follow-up day about one year later, to review progress against targets and to plan for the future.

LPSH costs pound;2,000 (half comes from the Government, the remainder from either local education authorities or school funds) but an evaluation carried out by researchers at Canterbury and Nottingham universities revealed that most participants saw it as good value for money.

The programme was seen as "tightly run and focused" with 73 per cent of LPSH heads strongly agreeing that the workshop on the characteristics of headship and leadership styles was the best management training they had received. "It was quite a challenging course," said Trevor Arrowsmith, head of Kingsthorpe Community College in North-ampton, "but always handled in a supportive way". He was an early LPSH participant and is now one of the programme's trainers.

One of the characteristics of LPSH is the information collected from five school colleagues who report anonymously, and in detail, about all aspects of a head's performance. "This was very valuable but a bit nerve-racking at the time," recalls Arrowsmith.

One head felt that the process took him close to a nervous breakdown and another, Julia Skinner, who leads a junior school in south Bristol, told The TES that "LPSH nearly led to me leave the profession". In the first two days of the course Julia was repeatedly confronted with a picture of herself and her school that she didn't recognise. "It took about a month to put myself back together again," she admitted.

Julia acknowledged the value of the management tools on offer - "like gold dust" - but she wished she had been better-supported through the process.

Ed Maddox, a primary head from Biddulph in Staffordshire, was positive about the training, but agreed that for some heads "it can be a knock-down followed by a rebuild".

Trevor Arrowsmith explains that heads may have arrived after a difficult Office for Standards in Education inspection report or a challenging term. "The LPSH process tells them: 'Look, these problems are about you'. Some heads get a bit of a battering, but because of the research basis for the programme they are on pretty thin ice if they try to argue."

The research basis is the Hay McBer analysis of what makes a successful school leader, a document that participants are expected to accept as the last word on leadership.

Heads speak positively about the value of the workshops and Ed Maddox returned to school with "a clear view of how I could do better, areas where I could be more effective".

But they appear less sure about the value of the industrial mentoring or the ICT support. "I thought the website was a good tool," said Ed Maddox. "But of the several thousand who logged on to it, only about 50 have continued to use it - very disappointing."

Industrial Society trainer Megan Crawford expects the leadership college to try to make the programme "more cohesive" and says there is a need for ongoing training for heads. "After a head does LPSH there's nothing else," she said.

Next Week: NPQH

Further information about the LPSH is available from www.ncsl.org.uk NCSL tel: 08701 601604. The Hay McBer headteacher competences are at www.ncsl.org.uk and follow the link - Leadership - Excellence model.

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