Ministers are in talks about funding a new school leadership college that would parachute graduates fresh out of university into headteacher, deputy and assistant headteacher positions after just two years of training, TES can reveal.
The college is the brainchild of three of education’s most high-profile figures: Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw; Sir Anthony Seldon, former master of Wellington College; and free-school pioneer Toby Young.
Mr Young said it was “highly likely” that students leaving the college – which will be based at the University of Buckingham – would have qualified teacher status before they led schools. But even this has yet to be confirmed.
‘Mean, sausage-factory leaders’
The founders of the Buckingham Institute of School Leadership argue that it is needed to tackle a shortfall in good headteachers, described as a “crisis” by Mr Young.
Sir Anthony – who is now vice-chancellor at Buckingham, the UK’s first private university – said that too many heads today were in the role without “any clear idea of why they are there or what they have to offer”.
“Nothing matters more than the quality of leadership – nothing,” he told TES. “We can bring in better people, we can bring in more great people into the system.
“We can prepare them better so they are more compassionate, wise, accomplished, rounded leaders rather than mean, sausage-factory, league-table-obsessed people.”
But union leaders have warned that introducing school leaders who have such limited experience of education could be risky.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “I’m pretty sceptical of fast-track schemes. Strong and effective leadership is based on a level of experience, particularly in the classroom, and then going on from there.
“There are lots of deputies who are interested [in headship] but are reluctant to take the next step. You don’t need to go right back to people starting their careers. We need to address why tens of thousands of people are not taking that step.”
News that ministers are in discussions about funding the new institute comes after Sir Michael wrote to education secretary Nicky Morgan proposing the scheme. His letter contained a blistering attack on the existing National College for Teaching and Leadership – set up to train the country’s heads – which he said has “failed to deliver” (see box, above).
A source close to Ms Morgan told TES that the idea of graduates who had just secured QTS becoming senior leaders was something that the Department for Education was open to. “We’re supportive of any way we can get more great leaders running schools from a variety of backgrounds,” the source said. “It won’t be the core route that they come through, as you will always have heads who have come through the system organically.”
They added that Ms Morgan had yet to make a decision as to whether the DfE would fund the institute, but discussions were ongoing.
Beyond league tables
The institute is also proposing to offer a range of leadership courses to existing teachers and career-changers (see box, left).
Sir Anthony said that the overall aim was to train prospective heads to go beyond scoring highly on “quantifiable metrics” and “raw league-table results”.
“Being a good leader is not something you can automatically assume because you have been a very good head of department or a very good head of year or you have been very good at number crunching,” he said.
But Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There will need to be a careful risk assessment when putting people through into leadership positions within a school based on a very limited amount of practical experience. Leading a school is an extremely complex business. Going through too quickly could be counterproductive.”
Sir Anthony said that the institute would open in September 2017 and the next step would be to find a suitable figure to run it. “It will have to be someone who has been a teacher – a proven head who has run academically successful and humane schools,” he said.
The Department for Education said that it was creating an “Excellence in Leadership” fund to back “innovative approaches to leadership development”. No agreement had been made to fund the Buckingham Institute.
National College criticism
The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, proposed the new institute to education secretary Nicky Morgan in a letter published last week, which savaged the performance of the existing National College for Teaching and Leadership. He said it had:
“Started badly and never really recovered.”
Offered programmes that “lacked credibility”.
Was insufficiently strategic in ensuring that good leaders ended up in the schools that needed them the most.
Relied on a “laissez-faire market approach” to producing school leaders.
Buckingham Institute of School Leadership: what it will offer
The Buckingham Institute of School Leadership’s founders say that it will:
Be a “very gritty, down-to-earth, practical experience”.
Avoid “academic nonsense” in favour of practical advice.
Teach skills such as understanding money and strategic thinking, as well as how to project your voice, chair meetings and run assemblies.
Focus on headship in state and independent schools, “not on middle leadership and other leadership programmes”.
Appoint regional directors to work with schools, regional school commissioners and local authorities to identify potential leaders. They could then train in rural, coastal and urban settings before being placed by the DfE into headteacher positions around the country.
The institute also aims to offer school leadership courses to “proven leaders” who already have experience in careers outside education.
These would be candidates with “real-life lessons and messages to offer other people beyond the frankly dehumanised, desiccated, number crunching of how you get to five A-Cs”, Sir Anthony Seldon said.
The idea of a course for career-changers came from Toby Young, who warned that the chronic shortage of headteachers was reaching “crisis point”. He added: “There seems to be increasing reluctance among senior leaders to apply for headships, because heads have more responsibility and the buck stops with them, and for many that is off-putting and it is a risk.
“So we looked at whether we should try to retrain successful senior managers in other professions – such as the NHS, theatre management or local government – to become heads. But for it to work, you need significant buy-in from the teaching profession.”
Career-changers are expected to make up about 10 per cent of the institute’s trainees.
The idea of parachuting in school leaders with transferable skills – but little actual experience of teaching – has always been contentious.
While some non-teachers in headship roles have made a success of the position, there have also been some high-profile failures.
In October 2013, Annaliese Briggs, headteacher of Pimlico Primary free school in West London, resigned after just a few weeks in the job. The 27-year-old had previously worked at the thinktank Civitas and had no formal teaching qualifications when she was appointed headteacher.
Peter Noble, who had previously worked in health management, was appointed chief executive of the newly formed Richard Rose Federation of two academies in Carlisle. He lasted two terms before being forced out of his role when Richard Rose Central was placed in special measures for the first time.
A government ‘FastTrack’ scheme offering trainee teachers a five-year route to leadership was scrapped in 2006 after an MP described it as “the most expensive flop in the history of teacher recruitment”.
But there have been success stories. Andrew Whitaker has been head of Todmorden High School in West Yorkshire since 2013. He moved from working as a financial manager and part-time lecturer in universities to being the business manager of a special school. He became the school’s vice-principal before joining Todmorden as interim head. Ofsted visited Todmorden in 2015 and upgraded it from “requires improvement” to “good”.