Wanted: a home-grown enthusiast;Opinion

11th June 1999 at 01:00
WHAT caught my eye was the wish-list challenging candidates for one of the most controversial and powerful jobs on offer. The advert said: "Visionary leadership"; "strong strategic managerial and financial skills"; "attracting and retaining creative people"; "grasping the impact of changing technology".

It could have been placed by any company or public body regrouping for the information age, but no, it wasn't the one for director of the National College for School Leadership. The vacancy was for the director-general of the BBC. Nice ad, though. I hope that "visionary leadership" and "attracting and retaining creative people" will be equally high on the agenda when it comes to filling the school leadership post and the other critical education jobs coming up at the General Teaching Council and at the Teacher Training Agency.

Ad-speak apart, what the BBC really needs, added one commentator, is "someone who can enthuse the staff and the people" - another message that education ministers need to hang on to, whether or not the BBC governors have paid attention.

The Prime Minister must have recognised this when he decided to woo headteachers directly on performance-related pay (aka modernisation), but he hasn't gone far enough yet. He was clearly excited about the leadership college he launched at their conference last week, but he was more eloquent about state-of-the-art technology and leadership and managerial skills than he was about attracting creative people. The college prospectus does acknowledge that the director must set "vision, tone and reputation" and "will need the confidence and support of the teaching profession". We shall see.

Meanwhile, shortlisting goes on for the chief executive's job at the GTC, which is putting the cart before the horse since the council has yet to be appointed and makes it, like the TTA, another quango post in the gift of the Government. The council will have a voice only when it comes to choosing its chair from among its own members. That ought to create a voice for education, given that a majority will be teachers or education-related.

But how likely is the Noah's Ark appointments procedure to throw up a shortlist of inspirational leaders? John Tomlinson looks like the only near-certainty, and deservedly so as the GTC's main architect and an articulate voice for the profession. But will the Government or the Daily Mail want to listen?

The answer is that the Government should be listening to the teaching profession now, before any of these key appointments are made, because relationships between them are at a critical point. New Labour is investing its reputation and several billions in an ambitious education programme which cannot succeed without the whole-hearted co-operation of teachers, yet its political rhetoric (and appointments system) is all directed towards middle England and predicated on distrust of the profession.

It has never been more important for teachers to have their own inspirational voice to speak for education, but anyone who does understand how to motivate and inspire teachers still tends to be demonised as a "progressive". That is the conflict that has to be resolved.

To be fair, recognition has started with a clutch of knighthoods, and the appointment of some outstanding heads and education officers to task forces and committees. Some of the best heads and ex-heads are also already engaged in training the next generation, so there should be plenty of well-qualified candidates for secondment to the leadership college, as trailed in the prospectus.

But can we find a home-grown director with the right sort of "track-record in educational leadership" to see off the promised international competition? Someone who can enthuse the teachers as well as the public - and the Prime Minister?

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