University in talks with government officials to bring 'education's Sandhurst' to the Midlands. Chris Bunting reports.
A FRONT-RUNNER has already emerged in the race to provide a site for the Government's multi-million pound National College for School Leadership.
Warwick University is understood to be negotiating with the Department for Education and Employment to bring the "education Sandhurst" to its campus. It also is interested in part of the contract to provide training.
Proposals for the leadership college were unveiled by Tony Blair at last week's National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Cardiff with an open invitation issued to any public or private-sector organisations which could offer a site. The Government said it would make a decision on the successful bid by November.
Warwick, which has one of the fastest-growing education departments in the country and a well-respected business school, has been first off the blocks.
Vice-chancellor Professor Sir Brian Follett has been in talks with the DFEE.
John Benington, professor of business studies at Warwick, said: "We have something to contribute. We have got an ideal location in the centre of England with very high quality teaching and residential facilities and also space to accommodate a new building should the DFEE wish."
When it opens in late 2000, The National College for School Leadership will inherit the present pound;100 million, three-year headteacher training budget, but, according to a Government prospectus published last week, will be expected to significantly expand the sector.
"(It will draw) together a range of other development activities including opportunities for higher academic qualifications, on-line training, scholarships, international development opportunities, sabbaticals and exchanges within the public and private sectors, including possible short attachments to the college itself," it says.
Associate, fellowship and companion status will be available to school leaders "in recognition of their achievements" and the draft makes clear that the opportunities will not be the preserve of heads.
"Many of these will also be available to aspiring heads, deputies and middle managers and we expect the college to play a key part in supporting them and fast-tracking those who are potential leaders in the profession," the prospectus says.
With 24,000 heads in post at any time, about double that aspiring to headship and many more in other leadership positions, the college is an admirable but extremely challenging project, according to Esther Williams, the NAHT's senior assistant secretary for training and development.
"It is not unlike training operations for forces like the army. Yet if you look at what they are proposing they are talking about a very small core to manage it," she said.
"What we see in this is a replication of some of the problems that have dogged the Teacher Training Agency. It lacked an infrastructure to get the National Professional Qualification for Headship properly off the ground and that was for only about 20,000 people."
Russell Clarke, deputy general secretary at the Secondary Heads Association, said: "In our view this should have been done years ago but at last we have found a government that is prepared to support that view."
However, he had noticed the absence of any emphasis in the Government's proposals on the importance of experience in education among the private and public-sector organisations invited to participate in the college.
"You have to ask yourself if you are going to be a lawyer, whom do you want to train you? You want the Inns of Court and the Bar Council. Education is no different," he said.
NAHT conference, 11