Meet the man running two schools who has never been trained to teach

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Peter Noble has never worked in a school before
Peter Noble has never worked in a school before. But in September he takes charge of not one, but two large secondaries.

The 50-year-old, who started his professional life as a radiologist, is believed to be the first person from a non-teaching background to lead an English state school.

Mr Noble said the idea behind his appointment as chief executive of the Richard Rose academies federation in Carlisle, Cumbria, is to run the schools "on business lines".

"We have got to provide education in a radically different way," he said. "We need to look at a more modern approach."

A former NHS executive and head of Leeds University's medicine faculty, he is at the forefront of a movement to bring outside expertise to the running of schools.

A report last year by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that non-teachers could become heads - an approach supported by the Association of School and College Leaders.

An international report, to be published this month by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, notes that non-teachers can be on school leadership teams, but stops short of recommending it (see panel above).

The approach is potentially controversial. The National Association of Head Teachers has warned that anyone in a leadership role that affects teaching and learning should be knowledgeable about both areas.

But Mick Brookes, the association's general secretary, said that if Mr Noble's role was similar to that of an area education officer, his experience might be suitable.

Mr Noble said: "Some might argue they've taken a risk appointing me because I'm from a non-teaching background, but I think this is about transferable skills."

The appointment has been made by the academies' sponsors: Andrew Tinkler, chief executive of the Eddie Stobart lorry firm, and Brian Scowcroft, a property developer.

Mr Noble will have two conventional heads working beneath him at the Central and Morton academies in Carlisle. But in line with the business-oriented approach, they will be known as "directors".

An academy press release said he had been appointed by a panel looking for someone with a track record in "the management of change, specialist human resources experience and the successful delivery of stated objectives".

When asked about his new role, Mr Noble's answer was similarly opaque. He said he wanted to organise his staff into schools-within-schools to "integrate the pastoral and support elements of education with line management, and to develop a much more vertically integrated system for students".

In plainer terms, his federation will use a version of the thematic curriculum pioneered by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

It will also seek to build a "seamless" life-long approach to education through links with nurseries, primaries, the new Cumbria University, and local business.

Kerry Callaghan, 38, a former administrator in the chemical industry, became the first non-teacher to gain the National Professional Qualification for Headship last year, but has not yet become a head. She said some of her fellow trainee heads had been "downright rude" about her background outside teaching.

In England and Wales, there is no legal requirement for heads to have qualified teacher status.

An NUT spokesman said that the union wished Mr Noble and his schools good luck.

"But if this is a straw in the wind it is something we would be extremely concerned about," he said. "All the evidence is that leadership based on a thorough understanding of teaching and learning is what makes schools successful."

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