Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness David: I am delighted to have had such an interesting and sensible contribution in support of my amendment, to which I have not yet spoken. I am delighted and thank my noble friend.

Amendment No. 61 is designed to clarify that a professional headship qualification will become a prerequisite for consideration for a headship, but that it can be neither a guarantee of fitness for headship nor a guarantee for the holder of a headship position. Responsibility for the appointment of a head teacher will still reside with the governing body of a school.

Research in the field of school improvement and effectiveness points consistently to the importance of leadership in raising educational standards. The proposal to introduce a mandatory requirement for aspiring head teachers to possess a professional headship qualification is therefore a welcome one. But there are concerns in the education service over the shortage of candidates for senior management posts in schools--I am sure we are very much aware of this--and over a tendency for deputy heads to be appointed automatically to the head teacher position as vacancies occur. When I was on the education committee of a local authority we were always terrified that people would propose the deputy for the head teacher appointment when the deputy was not suitable at all and when it would be a good thing to have a change.

It is appropriate that the contents of such a qualification are not fully prescribed in the legislation as the Teacher Training Agency's national postgraduate headship qualification is in its infancy and will require refinement

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1480

on evaluation. It will also be important for the GTC, once established, to make a professional judgment as to the proper elements of preparation for headship. We are very much in support of training but we do not want it thought that it is essential for heads to have the qualification or if they get the qualification, that they should necessarily be appointed to a headship.

Lord Parry: The real problem in our schools is the absence from post of many heads who resigned because of the pressures in which they found themselves. We have far more vacancies for headships than we have the headmasters which were so finely described by my noble friend, with her vast experience of education.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 60 attacks the heart of the policy on headship training. We have ample evidence from the inspectors of the clear link between the leadership and management skills of heads and the standard of achievement of pupils in their schools. We also know that there is a serious problem of recruitment of heads, to which my noble friend Lord Parry has just referred, and of people who feel they are able to apply for headships.

The aim of the clause is to secure, not immediately but at some future date, that all prospective heads have a minimum requirement that is recognised throughout the profession. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure the quality of heads in this way. We recognise that it will take some time for us to get there.

As I said at Second Reading, our intention is that the NPQH currently in trial will be subject to further development to prove its fitness for the purpose for which it is designed before it becomes a mandatory qualification. There are also problems of uptake and ability to attend courses which will also have to be addressed. Nevertheless, the aim must be to ensure that the minimum qualification of a head teacher meets this minimum standard professional qualification.

Clearly, appointment boards have to take into consideration other aspects of the managerial and personal skills of potential heads. But this is a central and minimum requirement. It is also true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, pointed out, that the evaluation trials of the NPQH have yielded a number of areas for improvement. That is perhaps not surprising as that is the purpose of running trials. Indeed, the areas to which she referred--procedures, assessment and consistency and the support provided for people going through the scheme--are points which have to be addressed. We shall be addressing them. A number of measures are already being taken.

The uptake of this qualification course needs to be the subject of further propaganda. Rather more people need to be encouraged to take it up. But once the qualification has been refined and recognised in the teaching profession and among prospective head teachers as the essential qualification, we believe that we should move towards making it a mandatory qualification. It would be absurd if, having something in the pipeline, we needed new primary legislation to achieve that mandatory requirement.

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1481

With that explanation and the undertaking that there will be time before the mandatory requirement is required, I ask that the amendments be withdrawn. With particular reference to Amendment No. 61, I repeat that it is clear that not only will the minimum qualification be required, but also an assessment of the character and performance of the applicant will need to be taken into account. In addition, I am advised that, as it stands, the noble Baroness's amendment is flawed, in that it does not explain what would happen as regards paragraphs (a) and (b) of the new subsection (2C). Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment as it stands. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw that as well.

Baroness Blatch: I shall be withdrawing these amendments. I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said in response. Is it the intention that there will be absolutely no flexibility at all, even when this measure is implemented, for the head teacher who, perhaps on the initial assessment, requires no further training at all? Is the noble Lord saying that, especially if we build in a minimum requirement and length of course, the applicant has to possess the minimum qualification? Is he saying that there will be no flexibility whatsoever for someone who is eminently suited and for whom the course would be superfluous?

Lord Whitty: I believe that the noble Baroness is already aware that existing heads are not covered by this mandatory requirement, but only prospective heads. When this qualification is up and running, it would be surprising to find a candidate so superbly and absolutely suited to the job who had not gone for this particular qualification. The odd exception would have to be considered but, frankly, I believe that a mandatory requirement as close as could be obtained is what is envisaged here. I do not believe that the kind of circumstances to which the noble Baroness referred are likely to arise very often, if at all.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful for that. If the situation that I describe arose, the qualification which the noble Lord says will be as close as possible to being mandatory will either be mandatory or it will not. Is it to be absolutely and utterly rigid and will there be no exceptions whatsoever? I do mean to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Whitty: In the long run, when the provision is up and running, it is the intention that there will be no exceptions.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: It is rather a dangerous thing that the Government are doing. As it was pointed out, the business of becoming a headmaster is a very complicated matter if one is a teacher. There are people who have the talents. If one ties the matter down, very many good teachers who could become headmasters will not bother to acquire the qualification. It will become a rigid matter, which is directed by the employers deciding who are the candidates for advancement. Many of the most successful headmasters I have known were regarded by their original employers as too maverick. I hope the

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1482

Minister realises that one might be restricting some of the greatest headmasters who have existed in the maintained and independent sector. There are dangers.

Lord Whitty: I believe that many of those historic, great headmasters--

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Even the living ones!

Lord Whitty: --both past and present, in the circumstances that we have envisaged, would have decided, as part of their career, to engage in this course. The essential element is that teaching and head teachership is regarded as a professional calling. One would not expect the equivalent argument to be put forward in relation to doctors. There may well be a large number of doctors who have no medical qualification for performing a particular aspect of surgery, but I would not like to be treated by them. Likewise, we need to be sure who our head teachers are to be in future.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: May I ask the noble Lord whether there is a qualification for general secretaries of trade unions?

Lord Whitty: There are very definite qualifications, but they are far too complex and far-reaching for me to explain now.

Lord Hardy of Wath: Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene. I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting that the children should be balloted on who their headteacher should be. I should point out that I was not suggesting that the qualification was unnecessary. I believe that governing bodies or local education authorities--that is, those responsible for appointing a head--may well be happy that he or she has the qualification, but they need to assess whether an applicant can provide other necessary qualities.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Having listened to this discussion and having had much local authority experience of appointing headteachers, I must point out that the Government are forgetting that a great many heads start as deputy heads. Very often, the headteacher may have been unwell or away for some time, so the deputy head may have had a lot of opportunity to prove his ability and will therefore need only a small amount of "topping up", if any, in order to do the job of head. This discussion simply does not reflect the reality of local authority life. The Government should be very careful on this point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page