We need people who care about children

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Qualifications should not be the main consideration, says Rosemary Litawski. Headteachers must have a human touch.

When I began teaching, more years ago than I am publicly prepared to admit, I had a Certificate in Education. I was a good teacher, far better than I am nowadays, but not qualified, in the opinion of my head of faculty, to teach 4th year CSE history, let alone O-level. Five years later, and with an Open University first-class honours degree, I was "confidentially" advised that I needed a "proper university" degree if I was to be qualified to teach A-level and become a head of faculty.

I became a head of year instead and then, while on maternity leave, enrolled on a part-time MEd course at Leicester University. My experience of parenthood probably taught me more than my excellent university course, but it was the MEd with Distinction that two years later helped me to acquire a deputy headship. I then gained a MA and a Phd. I continue to tutor for the Open University, on its MA in educational management, but it is no longer my original utilitarian motives that now inspire me.

I would suggest that a belief in and a quest for lifelong learning and a liberal philosophy of education that values education and knowledge for its own sake is very different from the proposed new vocational qualification - a gatekeeper qualification, without which very soon one will not be able to become a headteacher. Frighteningly, this mirrors that view that one could not teach CSE without a degree. All my pieces of paper have not improved my pedagogic skills. Will this qualification make for better headteachers?

It all depends what the qualification includes, what the Government considers essential skills and knowledge for today's headteacher. On the evidence of my past term, crisis management must come high up the list.

I must be the most highly qualified dinner lady, toilet supervisor, receptionist and cover teacher for staff off with stress. How to deal with intruders is, as the tragedy at Dunblane has taught us, no longer a skill that should be left to intuition. Last winter term I had to learn to cope with leaking roofs and collapsed ceilings. Possibly my main achievement has been to acquire funding for new roofs. (The decision hung in the balance at a county property meeting until I was asked to justify my costing of new roofing per square metre - my knowledge knows no bounds.) Maybe it is a reflection of headship today that we need these new skills. Maybe it is the result of local management of schools, open enrolment, and the new competitive marketing economy, but budgeting, premises and marketing appear to consume more of my time than I remember they ever did for my predecessors. I should have heard the alarms when I was told by my former chair of my governors, that I got the headship because I was the only candidate who knew that I must not use the delegated budget to subsidise lettings to the scouts football team.

Entrepreneurial skills I never knew I possessed are now coming to the fore as I am expected to attract ever more funding for the school, writing competitive bids for everything from raising standards to new litter bins.

My MEd course spent much time on teamwork, collaboration and collegiality, but one quickly learns that the Nineties marketplace demands glossy prospectuses, showy open days and using the press whenever possible.

In the Eighties the message was autonomy, financial freedom and independence; now, it is how to manage deficits and redundancies. For the third consecutive year my authority has not funded the teachers' pay award, but consoles me with the message it has increased the age-weighted pupil unit. It does not take a course in financial management to calculate that my main cost - salaries - is increasing more than my total budget and this inevitably means fewer teachers and larger classes.

This year I have acquired a new expertise: how to manage staff reductions, a euphemism for how to make teachers redundant. An essential session for the new qualification should be training in dealing with an industrial tribunal.

One of my predecessors said the first requirement of any headteacher was how to select good staff. His rationale was that if you chose good people, you could delegate everything, they would do all the work and worrying for you. It is so much easier to motivate, to lead, to inspire, and do all the things that Ofsted extols of a good headteacher, if you have the right staff.

How is this new qualification to be assessed? By written examination? Coursework? A presentation? A year in an inner-city school and no nervous breakdowns? I remember Ted Wragg discussing the difficulties of assessing citzenship: one could pass an A-level in citizenship and still be a bastard. One could pass the headship qualification and still be a disaster.

Maybe we require our headteachers to be caring professionals, and that they come equipped with a set of values. We should still be looking for individuals who can teach, who care about youngsters. Qualifications alone should not decide our future headteachers.

Dr Rosemary Litawski is head of Mereway School, Northampton.

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