Prospective leaders need their heads examined

13th April 2012 at 01:00
The revised NPQH will employ psychometric testing

They are normally associated with recruitment to blue-chip companies such as international banks. But now psychometric tests will be used to judge who is best suited to take on school leadership, TES has learned.

The introduction of the personality tests is part of a complete overhaul of the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), which the government hopes will make it even tougher to climb teaching's professional ladder.

There will be 1,300 places a year to study the reformed qualification, now voluntary - 400 fewer places than previously. Those responsible for the changes say this will be part of a process of "raising the bar".

The psychometric tests are being introduced to the NPQH application process to help judge who will be "highly effective" school leaders - an idea that has received a mixed reception from those already in the role of headteacher.

Maggie Farrar, executive director for leadership development at the National College for School Leadership, said the adoption of the tests was down to education secretary Michael Gove demanding that the NPQH become more like an MBA. As such, Ms Farrar's team is now undertaking trials of different tests.

"We want to draw on the type of psychometric test expected with any senior position. Michael Gove wanted the NPQH to be on a par with the best MBAs, so we looked at how people were assessed to get on those programmes," she said.

"The course is now non-mandatory. We are using this as a deliberate opportunity to champion and improve the quality of those going on to headship. We are hoping more people will eventually get over this bar."

The test will be taken by candidates online, after they have applied for a place on the course. They will also have to attend a one-day "assessment centre" with staff from the National College. Assessors will then speak to the applicant's headteacher or sponsor for 30 minutes on the telephone.

Psychologist Barry Cripps, who has administered personality tests to teachers, said that the test "should not be used on its own" to select candidates. However, he was positive about it being used as part of a broader assessment.

"This is an excellent idea. The very best approaches use psychometric testing together with an assessment centre," Dr Cripps said. "The tests show aspects of the candidate's personality - if they are extroverted or introverted, anxious, outgoing or empathetic. They also show if the person is a risk-taker," he added.

But Mike Griffiths, headteacher of Northampton School for Boys, warned that the tests could just "state the obvious" because most candidates would try to show their personality in any case during the selection process.

"These tests could also presuppose that only a certain type of person is likely to be a good headteacher. I've met heads of all shapes and sizes, so if there's a nice simple formula I would be very surprised," Mr Griffiths said.

The application round for the new NPQH is now open. Around 2,000 people are expected to apply.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he hoped that the changes would prevent unsuitable people being picked to join the course.

"In the past there were examples of people being recruited on to the course who were clearly not ready for headship. It is essential there is proper assessment," he said. "Psychometric tests have a part to play in that, but it shouldn't be 100 per cent. Having a conversation with the candidate's headteacher is absolutely essential."

New-look learning

How the NPQH has changed:

Schools will run the course for the first time. Eleven have been given a licence to do this by the National College for School Leadership. The other 18 courses will be run by training organisations and universities.

Instead of courses being held only in each region of England, they will be run throughout the country.

To qualify, future headteachers will have to spend more time training on the job - there will be longer school-based placements.

Information about each course will be displayed on new TripAdvisor-style internet rankings on the National College website. Information will be collected from those who qualify about their promotion successes, satisfaction rates and the impact the course has had on their performance.

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