More than Mr Blair's mouthpiece

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
Some insiders have predicted for months that the review of the four-year-old National College for School Leadership would be highly critical. With both chairman and chief executive on the way out, failings would be laid bare.

Anyone who imagined a Department for Education and Skills report would openly castigate a pound;300 million flagship New Labour project personally endorsed by Tony Blair can't have been as much an insider as he thought. But such rumours say more about the enmities the college has attracted from those in the unions, higher education and the Specialist Schools Trust who felt their role in leadership training was sidelined.

Criticisms in the report are muted. But the Government's dissatisfaction is clear enough. For those not fluent in mandarin, "priorities for future development" roughly translates as "could have done a lot better", particularly in aligning the college's efforts with the Government's policies and targets.

Top of the wish list is "a more productive relationship" with the DfES.

This is extraordinary given that the college's governing council is entirely appointed by ministers and its meetings are stiff with DfES officials. The permanent secretary is an ex-officio member. On which side, then, is this relationship failing?

The NCSL is not a college in any normal sense. It enjoys little academic freedom - and will have less in future. It is what is known as a non-departmental public body and as much part of the central state apparatus as Ofsted, with which it is now expected to share information on the performance of the leaders it trains. Operational responsibility for schools is still ostensibly local, but the Government sees the college as a central means of delivering its own politically-inspired changes.

Heather Du Quesnay, its departing chief executive, was not the leading headteacher Tony Blair promised. But the college she created won the respect of many who are - even if it evidently trod on the toes of other vested interests. If the worst the review can now say is that she failed to turn the college completely into a creature of government, then perhaps she did rather better than The TES gave her credit for.

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