Will this unclog our primaries?

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Dutch-style federations should be adopted as Britain's system is not fit for purpose, says former Blair adviser
Dutch-style federations should be adopted as Britain's system is not fit for purpose, says former Blair adviser

Primary leadership is "not fit for purpose", and should be reformed along Dutch lines with clusters of schools controlled by executive heads or superintendents, says a former Government insider.

Robert Hill said that problems introducing guaranteed non-contact time for teachers in 2005 had exposed a lack of strategic ability among primary heads.

The former special advisor to Tony Blair and the Department for Education argues that leadership needs to improve in primaries if they are to cope with the challenges of offering foreign language teaching to all pupils, a new primary curriculum, expanded early years' provision, and extended schools, while funding increases continue to shrink.

"Having an individual head- teacher presiding over each and every primary school is not sustainable," he said.

But Mick Brookes, National Association of Head Teachers' general secretary, accused him of taking an unhelpful, "miserable view" of primary leadership.

"This sort of hierarchical nonsense is not respectful of colleagues who are trying to do an extremely difficult job," he said.

"The problems we have in the primary sector are nothing to do with the allegations Robert Hill makes, but simply the capacity of primary schools that have been cut off from the supp- ort that local authorities are no longer providing or commissioning."

Many primary heads warned in 2005 that they would be unable to introduce the 10 per cent planning preparation and assessment (PPA) time for teachers because funding was insufficient. The Government responded by providing extra coaching for heads from management consultants.

Mr Hill, special adviser to Charles Clarke, education secretary when the workforce deal was signed, said: "Many of the people were able and capable heads, but did not have the skills in change management, which increasingly they will have to, as part of what makes an effective school leader."

The Dutch solution he advocates has seen at least 80 per cent of primary schools in the Netherlands placed in federations.

Some have superintendents in overall control, with several heads below them. Others have an executive head overseeing several school heads.

Mr Hill said one of the crucial lessons from Holland was to implement sweeping radical change: "You don't do it in a piecemeal way - you go for it," he said.

He suggested English ministers could implement the change by making funding for new buildings dependent on primaries adopting the new model.

They could also offer the carrot of more school-based control, with executive heads taking over from the primary National Strategy.

Going Dutch, pages 20-21.

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