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Tests for headship proposed

Would-be headteachers will soon be asked to undergo a "rigorous" National Professional Qualification test before taking up their duties, under measures announced by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, during the Conservative party conference in Blackpool.

A National Vocational Qualification (level 5) will be drawn up by the Teacher Training Agency, with pilot schemes operating from the autumn of 1996.

Mrs Shephard has also returned to the theme of standard English by attacking those who "communicate by grunt" and announcing that all pupils will receive marks for spoken English as part of their GCSE.

She has established a task force, chaired by the television broadcaster Trevor McDonald, to campaign for higher standards.

This follows her speech to the conference last year when she attacked sloppy speech and "Estuary English". Speaking in the education debate, Mrs Shephard said: "The key to any successful enterprise is the head of it, whether it's a business, a school, a college or a TEC (training and enterprise council). No reform or initiative will work without leadership. And we must invest even more to make our heads even better."

The new qualification for heads was welcomed by the the two main professional organisations, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Headteachers.

However, David Hart, the general secretary of the NAHT, warned that the qualification should not be compulsory: "It is fine as long as there is no question of it becoming 'a certificate of air-worthiness' or a compulsory pre-entry to headship requirement."

He also called for a greater share of training money to be given to schools. "Far too much is siphoned off by local education authorities and others, " he said. A spokesman for the TTA said the agency has promised to consult before producing a detailed scheme.

There was qualified approval from the classroom unions. "Additional training for heads is welcome," said a spokesman from the National Union of Teachers. "But we would be concerned if money was taken from local government to pay for it. We also want assurances that the cost to schools - supply cover for example - is fully recognised."

The new qualification is separate from the Headteachers Learning and Management Programme (Headlamp), an in-service training scheme for new heads which started this autumn. Local education authorities were angry that this has been funded at the expense of their own training programmes.

At last year's conference, Mrs Shephard launched a campaign "for the better use of the English language", but little was heard of it later.

This week, she picked up the theme once more, saying: "In future, I want grades for spoken English recorded separately on GCSE certificates."

She also announced the creation of an independent steering group with a Pounds 250,000 budget (spread over two years), chaired by Trevor McDonald. The other members are likely to include Sir David English, the chairman of Associated Newspapers, and Chrissie Maher, the founder and director of the Plain English Campaign.

A spokeswoman for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority said that it would now discuss with the examination boards whether or not schemes for separate grades for spoken English could be in place by September 1996.

The initiative was praised by Dr Bernard Lamb, from the Queen's English Society. In a survey of the communication skills of young entrants to industry and commerce conducted last year, the society found that 92 per cent of industrialists believed that schools were failing to promote good written and spoken English.

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