In which the author is astonished…

The National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) will not be mandatory for applicant headteachers from early 2012.

Steve Munby and I didn’t discuss this last week! If we had, I’d have told him that I considered it a backward step. Now that the National College has come under the arm of Government (another shame, I think), we can see the busy hand of Gove at work once again. Another unforeseen, controversial announcement at the end of a busy term. The issue even seemed to miss the TES this week.

The White Paper, published last year, aimed to raise the status of the teaching profession and this move seems totally counter-intuitive. I can’t think of any other profession in which the pinnacle qualification has been so suddenly discredited. 

I completed my NPQH in 2006 and I admit that the experience was of variable quality. There had been a dearth of meaningful CPD for school leaders up to that point and it did seem that anyone and everyone was recruited onto the programme in the early cohorts. If this diluted the early impact there was a sense of professional identity emerging with the work of The College back then and successive iterations have improved the NPQH. I would not have had the confidence to consider headship without it. The Government shouldn’t assume that the conversion rate of NPQH holders into heads is the only measure of its success.

Perhaps Michael Gove has been swayed by the media? There have been criticisms of what was dubbed “Stepford Head” syndrome. NPQH holders were presented as “bodysnatcher” leaders, cloned to think and work in the same way, to point the same finger and scream the same jargon. Perhaps Mr Gove wants to see the return of the maverick super-head? Perhaps the military have the answer?

The irony is that the programme has improved with recent changes and so has the quality of school leadership. I am mentoring a colleague through the newer, sleeker NPQH model and the experiences from the discussions we’ve had have been overwhelmingly positive.

Is it purely a financial issue? Whatever the rationale, and however much I agree with the aspiration of Masters accreditation, it feels like a wrong turn to make NPQH non-mandatory. School leadership is right up there alongside the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom as a key factor in a school’s success.

I fear that more long term damage to the country’s academic standing could be done by business and military leaders learning to understand the education sector than by school leaders learning how to run a business.

Anyone could and should have an interest in education but only those who have taught and led successfully in schools should be appointed to head them.