The Government has suggested special schools be renamed specialist schools, That is all very well but it is not enough. A government serious about raising expectations, increasing inclusion and improving parent support and partnership must change the character of specialist provision.
Special schools' current role, as places where children are sent, contrains their development. But specialist centres, that sometimes support and sometimes teach children who remain on the roll of their community school, will be very different places, offering a real challenge. But that challenge will evaporate without a new style of leadership, not just to produce effective managers but because special school heads deeply influence mainstream colleagues, parents and education authorities.
Headship may be education's most difficult task. Special school headship has particular difficulties and although many special schools are well run, OFSTED inspections suggest a disproportionate number are struggling.Even the best special school heads will need development opportunities if they are to set up successful new ventures.
We will need to devise succession planning. Many LEAs have difficulty recruiting good middle managers to special schools. Money is elusive and anyway an insufficient solution if we cannot make specialist centres an enhancement to any teacher's CV. That will mean selling the new role and the new status vigorously to the whole profession.
And we must use the Teacher Training Agency's NPQH initiative and the proposed mandatory qualification to bridge the gap between middle management and headship. On the key areas of headship in the NPQH, especially "strategic direction" and "accountability", we must be sure of what we are looking for. We still have a way to go.
Denis Mongon is head of professional development in Herts