Studied indifference;Career development

17th September 1999 at 01:00
Interviewers must ask prospective heads about qualifications, says Hilary Moriaty.

At my first short-listing for a headship, I was asked: "And what preparation have you made?" Obvious enough, but it made me realise I had done nothing apart from being a deputy for two years. The school duly appointed another candidate, already a head, and I set about Being Prepared.

The National Professional Qualification for Headteachers did not then exist, and I have doubts about it even now that it does: it's expensive and, time-consuming and seems to require endless "writing up" of what you've already done.

Or not - because its format is heavily dependent upon your headteacher. You won't be accepted without his or her backing, you won't get to do the tasks required without his or her willingness to hand them over.

Like everyone else with headteacher aspirations, I needed something part-time. Gerald Haigh was right to declare the need for training for headship (TES, June 4). Colleagues were studying for masters degrees in education at a nearby university one evening a week. But the deputy has to attend school functions whatever night they fall, and there was no sense committing myself to a course where full attendance was impossible.

Then a flyer arrived: a master's in educational management by the weekend route - five weekends of tuition a year for two years, with a certificate at the end of the first and diploma at the end of the second, plus a final year's dissertation.

Surely I could manage that, even if it was nearly 200 miles away? As one of Gerald Haigh's interviewees commented: "The time won't come out of the job, it will come out of the rest of your life." But just five weekends a year? When my husband and son volunteered to come too, and go to football matches while I studied, it seemed even more possible.

The course offered all that one could wish for in terms of formal training and stimulating contact with professionals. Most of all, it offered freedom to reflect upon what I was doing, or hadn't done, or should have done, or might do; on the nature and state of education; and on the whole business of managing and leading schools.

It's been great, and if I can just do my last interview and sort out the problems of getting material typed up, then I might just complete the dissertation and collect my third degree later this year. I will have to work like the devil, but that's the price you pay for a part-time degree.

The trouble is though, nobody cares. Honestly, in a couple of years of interviews for several headships, I have only once been asked about the course. No one has ever again asked about my preparation for headship and I've never been given the chance to enthuse about the formal training which everyone now seems agreed we ought to have.

Well, everyone except governors, maybe. In the spring of 1998, I asked a governing body if they would expect a new head to pursue an NPQH if they did not already have one.

Mystification all round. "And what exactly is that?" asked the chairman. When I explained, he said: "Oh no, no, no, I don't think so!" as if I had suggested naked softball as part of the PE curriculum.

Maybe the climate is changing, and if enough applicants have an NPQH then governors may just ask what it means. And how it differs from the MEd, or an MSc or MA in education management or leadership, or an MBA.

Each will develop its own strengths, offer its own opportunities, require its own skills and level of commitment, in much the same way as an English degree may start with Beowulf or the Bront s, and yet still appear as an English degree.

But if governing bodies and interviewing panels never ask, they will never find out. so you'd better just reconcile yourself to enjoying the blood, sweat and tears of study for its own sake, because whatever the qualification and however well you pass, it comes with no guarantee of employment.

Hilary Moriarty is a deputy in a secondary school in the south west, studying for a Masters at Leeds Metropolitan University.

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