Only teachers are fit to be heads

11th May 2007 at 01:00
At the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Bournemouth last week, delegates voted overwhelmingly against opening school headship to applicants other than qualified teachers.

The debate was sparked by the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report into school leadership that proposed schools might widen their search for leaders to include people from other fields who were not necessarily teachers. The contents of this report will now form part of the deliberations of the social partnership.

NAHT Cymru members, and that includes headteachers, deputies and assistant heads in primary, secondary and special schools, recognise that schools are changing and a wider range of skills will be required by senior management teams.

But our members' objection to the appointment of heads without qualified teacher status goes to the heart of the debate about the future of our schools.

We believe that the core purpose and responsibility of a school leader is to lead teaching and learning for pupils and staff. The head is responsible for allocating resources to serve that core purpose, as well as evaluating and monitoring the work of the teaching and wider school staff.

Stating these fundamental principles is simple. Adhering to them in the face of the huge complexity of schools in the 21st century is another matter entirely. It means keeping faith with the absolute primacy of learning and teaching.

Budgetary difficulties, a multiplicity of accountability processes and multiple initiatives all vie for attention. It would be easy to lose sight of what is genuinely important in the face of these demands.

At the moment, headship can only be achieved by those who have gained experience of teaching and learning over many years. It involves understanding the challenges and frustrations of colleagues because you have faced them yourself.

It means knowing how to find and allocate resources to get the best educational deal for your pupils. It means gaining a profound understanding of how schools work and what will make them better.

NAHT Cymru members feel that only a head who has experienced all this could feel confident in managing and monitoring the standard of teaching in their school, and feel that confidence reciprocated by the teachers themselves.

The budget is also in the hands of the head, and our members could not feel confident if the person holding the purse-strings lacked the level of knowledge and experience of schools.

There is no doubt that schools are becoming ever more complex places.

Senior management teams must change and adapt. Skills other than those in the classroom are increasingly necessary.

However, a school leader without experience of the core function of schools, gained over time and with a depth of understanding, is never likely to grasp the complexities of the role. That is why NAHT Cymru delegates proposed a motion which called on school leadership to remain a post reserved for the head.

Anna Brychan is director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru

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