The right direction;Leading Article;Opinion

11th June 1999 at 01:00
A national college for school leadership is long overdue and the prospectus published last week promises much of the sort of the investment required. Though most attention has been focused on the importance of good headteachers, recognition that "leadership" in today's schools is exercised by more than heads and deputies is particularly significant.

Subject leaders are increasingly expected to take responsibility for monitoring and raising standards, and managing people as well as resources. A college that makes the best management and leadership training available to all who need it, provides practical experience of what works and offers opportunities for reflection, refreshment and inspiration will be widely welcomed. The prospectus claims leadership development to date has lacked coherence, direction and status. It proposes, therefore, a single national driving force to achieve world-class, relevant training and to direct a national debate on school leadership, drawing on the best ideas in and out of education and around the globe.

Much of that is for the good. But the Teacher Training Agency was also meant to provide coherence and direction to the present National Professional Qualification for Headship. In the event, it created a framework that initially, at least, was cumbersome and bureaucratic and a regime which could stifle innovation and debate where those involved feared loss of contracts. There were worries too that such monoculture produced management clones with little or no evidence that the particular competences emphasised were those required in all circumstances.

In future, institutions offering not just the NPQH but other courses aimed at school leaders like the MBA will be expected to work with the new leadership college within a national framework. So the same concerns may again be raised about the overarching role of the college, though a mandatory qualification for headship will need clear benchmarks and quality-control.

The new college is being created by the Government with its director appointed by the Secretary of State. But to be effective it needs to be more than a quango doing its master's bidding. Serving heads are promised a role in selecting that director and on the college's controlling council. But the greatest guarantee of political independence and pragmatic professionalism could be the open network of school leaders it is to set up and the international stage on which it is to operate.

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