Heads will roll-or will they?

18th April 2003 at 01:00
When leadership incentive grants were announced for 1,400 secondary schools there was the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth among those who were not eligible. Now they must be feeling relieved. All government grants have strings attached. This one is beginning to look like a wire-guided missile.

And it is the leaders of our most challenging schools that ministers have in their sights.

Charles Clarke's bellicose references to the need to "take out" the heads of problem schools were clearly intended to be more than tough rhetoric.

Even before he spoke, the Education Secretary's civil servants were sending frantic emails to local authorities demanding "urgent feedback" for ministers on "the radical action planned" (page 1). Their questions made it clear that what was required - within 24 hours - was a body count. Barely a month after schools were told they were going to get the grant, ministers were demanding a butcher's bill of named schools where heads, deputies and middle managers are to be removed.

It seems we can forget the due process of competency procedures when the high command orders surgical strikes based on the intelligence it derives from its various league tables. At least the original form of naming and shaming was based on first-hand inspection of schools.

Of course no governing body, headteacher or local authority should tolerate clear incompetence, whether the Government provides extra cash to ease weak staff out or not. But struggling schools cannot be bombed into improvement.

And it is far from obvious that better candidates will be queuing up to replace those Mr Clarke wants removed - especially now such schools are identified as free-firing zones.

Fortunately, school governors can stop this madness. Nothing gives Mr Clarke - or quisling local authorities if there are any - the right to insist on the removal of any head or teacher. At the school level it is governing bodies - not ministers - who judge who should or should not be employed and how pupils' best interests will be served.

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