Headship route gets a bypass

12th May 2000 at 01:00
It should now be simpler and quicker to reach the top of the teaching ladder. Sue Jones reports.

GOVERNMENT reforms to training for teachers who want to become heads aim to make it more family-friendly. Headteachers have welcomed the changes but other teacher organisations remain sceptical.

Since the National Professional Qualification for Headship became available in September 1997, there has been praise for the quality of much of the training, but also criticism of the weight of work and the difficulty some staff have had getting the right experience in their own schools to complete the assessment tasks. Moreover, primary teachers seemed reluctant to join.

Following a review last year led by Pat Collarbone, head of the London Leadership Centre, the length and organisation of the training and the nature of the assessments have been changed.

A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said that it was "most important to maintain the same rigour" but the course had now been tailored to fit the needs of the candidates better. The department hopes more primary teachers will be attracted to the new-look course.

The three-year programme will be reduced to one year and some of the long assessments will be replaced by tasks more closely related to candidates' work in their own schools. The 6,000 current participants will now be expected to complete all their assignments by next April when the revised course begins.

The new programme will make greater use of information communications technology and will be "phase related", so that training will be geared to the different needs of nursery, primary and secondary schools. It will also cut the time candidates spend on residential weekends by concentrating this into two days at the National College for School Leadership. The Government had planned to make the qualification mandatory for newly-appointed heads by 2002 but this is still under discussion.

Headteachers have broadly welcomed the changes. Esther Williams, the National Association of Head Teachers' senior assistant secretary for training and development, believes that heads will now have more opportunity to be involved in the training and that the assessment tasks can be more effectively managed. The NAHT is pleased that more work will happen at school level and that candidates will get more support from their tutors, although it may be difficult to fit all the work into one year.

The Secondary Heads Association sees the reduction from three years to one as a significant step forward. Like the NAHT, t welcomes the sharper focus on school-based assessments that will help candidates to apply generic skills to specific situations. The association is also pleased that training will reflect the fact that nursery, primary and secondary heads face very different considerations.

The greater use of ICT allows more flexibility in the way candidates can organise their time, although its disadvantage is the loss of some personal contact. David Bennett, chair of SHA's professional and management committee, said that the challenge was now to develop continuity in headship training. The Headlamp programme for newly-appointed heads should build on the NPQH, as should later in-service training, he said.

The response from candidates has been mixed. Karen Moore of the Wakeman school in Shrewsbury, who was one of the first 50 people to qualify, described the course as including "some of the best training sessions I've ever been to". But success depends on having a supportive headteacher. A rigorous needs assessment at the beginning of the course determines which modules a candidate can go straight for assessment on, and which ones they should also take the training for. Some of the assessments depend on management projects being carried out by the candidates and not all senior staff are given sufficient responsibility to do this.

Consistency is an area for concern. Candice Dwight, deputy head of the Ilford county high school for boys, remembered the anger in her group at poorly-organised delivery of materials and the variable quality of tutoring. The work is already very time-consuming but some of the pre-session tasks set were not referred to again.

Not all the teacher unions are convinced that the changes have gone far enough. Some members of the National Union of Teachers have found the course "patchy and piecemeal". The union's assistant education officer, John Bangs, said: "The problem has been that applicants have not felt supported, and early NPQH courses were not particularly liked or well attended because they often felt that they could not get on them.

"There were excessive amounts of distance learning. I hope the new changes mean that's going to be cut down. But we still cannot have confidence that the NPQH can be compulsory yet."

STREAMLINED NPQH

Reduced from three years to one.

Information technology to increase flexibility.

Clearer focus on nursery,

primary or secondary.

Residential requirement reduced.

Assessments replaced by

in-school tasks.

More support from tutors.


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