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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that contribution was out of order under the rules of the House. No one is arguing about the desirability of this aim. However, the Minister has talked of introducing the requirement within this Parliament. That emphasises the fears of those teachers who discussed this matter with me. They said their worst fear was that the Government would establish this requirement within this Parliament and there would be no flexibility. We know there is no flexibility in this regard by the way the matter is set out in the Bill. We know that this requirement will be implemented. We now know that it will probably be implemented within this Parliament.

This Bill will not complete all its parliamentary stages until the summer. The courses that are to be established are still not satisfactory; we know that from the evaluation report. We know that schools would like a good deal more money to cover the enormous future expansion of this scheme. At the moment it is a modest scheme but it will have to be expanded considerably. The noble Lord said nothing in response to my point about geographical areas. He did not respond either to the point that I made about unevenness of funding throughout the country; namely, in one part of the country there may be a high turnover of head teachers--for example, London--but in another part of the country--for example, Cumbria--the turnover of head teachers may be much smaller. That will result in uneven funding as between different local authorities.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope I may correct the noble Baroness. I referred to a sufficient pool of candidates with reference to different kinds of school and different geographical areas. We shall not set a date for the implementation of this provision until we are satisfied that there is a sufficient pool of applicants, taking account of those factors. I hope that we can set a date within this Parliament, but the key point is that we shall not do so until we are satisfied that there is a sufficient pool of candidates.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I continue, with the leave of the House. The noble Lord has not said how that geographical spread can be achieved, as one may have to select more teachers in one part of the country than in another part. At the moment local authorities have not received any instructions on that. As things stand, the provision applies to teachers from any part of the country who wish to aspire to headships. There are parts of the country where turnover may be low and teachers may not be selected for the training simply because the turnover of head teachers in their area is not high. However, they may wish to aspire to a headship and will want the training to enable them to be more mobile and to apply for headships in other parts of the country. London not only has a high turnover of head teachers but it also draws candidates for those headships from many other parts of the country.

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The noble Lord said that the Government sought to impose this provision within this Parliament. Therefore an absolute guarantee is required that this part of the Bill will not be introduced as an inflexible requirement for all candidates who will have to acquire this qualification in order to gain a headship. All these points need to be met. I shall discuss that point on the next amendment too. If the noble Lord really means what he says, the next amendment ought to be accepted. For the moment I shall withdraw this amendment but I hope that the noble Lord can give us an assurance on this matter. If he does not do so, we shall return to this matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 7, line 30, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations under this section shall provide that the period of training for a professional headship qualification shall be of not less than one year's, and not more than three years', duration.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I make no apologies for moving a similar amendment to one that we discussed in Committee. I do so partly because of the reply that we received from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty--I believe that we were discussing the amendment rather late at night--at col. 1486 of Hansard. This amendment concerns the length of time that teachers take to achieve the head teachers' qualification. We are all agreed that that is an extremely important qualification, as the quality of a head in a school makes all the difference to what happens in that school.

When we discussed this matter previously I emphasised that we wanted to make sure that head teachers are not allowed to spend too many years trying to achieve this qualification. We are also concerned that this qualification should not be rushed and that people are not "parachuted in" from other professions, as we have seen happen in other walks of life.

When the Minister replied, he said:

    "We wish to examine ways of fast tracking for headships potential candidates who have shown the kind of flair referred to in the earlier debate".--[Official Report, 20/1/98; col. 1486.]

I hope that I am giving the Minister the opportunity to enlarge on that point, because it was last discussed late at night. It is precisely that kind of parachuting-in that concerns us, which is why we tabled the amendments.

I expect that other Members of your Lordships' House have, like me, had briefings from head teachers who are concerned about how the Government see headship qualifications. I do not imagine that they will understand the situation any better from the debate this afternoon and evening. I hope that the proposed amendment will give the Minister the opportunity to dispel our worst fears about individuals being allowed to attain a headship qualification without proper training.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I support most strongly the amendment, although it adds to the disquiet that I know teachers have. There is a loud rumour going through the teaching profession on the back of the reference to fast tracking--that the courses will be such

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that they will simply achieve the policy. The Government can say that teachers have the headship qualification but the quality of courses will not be so good, the qualification will be devalued as a result and, over time, the quality and improvement that the policy is deemed to bring about will not be achieved.

My only reservation about the amendment is what is meant by one year. We raised that point in the last debate. What is absolutely essential is the number of hours of study or the commitment to study. One can have a course lasting a year that requires attendance only one morning a month, or one can have a three-month attachment requiring more concentrated effort over a shorter period. What matters at the end of the day is quality. The point made by the noble Baroness's amendment is one that I strongly support. No attempt to fast track should result in the qualification being reduced in quality and its currency devalued.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Whitty said in Committee, in response to a similar amendment, that there is absolutely no merit in making prospective head teachers serve time for its own sake. The Teacher Training Agency has, in close consultation with the profession, developed the national standards for headship, which, together with information about headship training, have been available in the Library since Committee stage. I hope that information is reassuring. The Government well recognise the crucial importance of effective and well-trained teachers. The last thing we want is to devise head teacher training that in some way devalues the standards that ought to be required and the quality of the people trained, who are to take such important jobs as the headships of our schools.

The purpose of the National Professional Qualification for Headship--which is a modern, practical and professional preparation--is to bring all prospective head teachers up to rigorous standards. But as candidates may be starting from different points, their training needs will inevitably differ and there can be no one-for-all fit. The training that an individual aspiring head teacher undergoes must be tailored to his or her needs. That is consistent with the national vocational qualification system of work-based training that was developed under the previous Government in which the noble Baroness served.

Deputy heads, for example, who have extensive leadership experience--perhaps in a big school--and who may have completed relevant management qualifications at higher education institutions, will need less development than individuals newly promoted to middle or senior management posts. There will be people in the profession who already have a master's degree in school management and will obviously need less additional preparation than individuals who have no formal qualification other than their initial teacher qualification of years before.

At present the NPQH can take between two terms and three years, so it is already the case that the qualification can take less than one year. In recognising that some candidates may already be well qualified, the TTA is considering accelerated routes to the NPQH that may take less than two terms. The noble Baroness,

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Lady Blatch, recognises that the issue is not the length of additional training that candidates may need on the basis of individual assessments but the standards represented by the NPQH, which must be absolute and represent a clear benchmark for entry into headship in future.

I am sure your Lordships agree that there is absolutely no value in forcing already highly skilled people to leap unnecessary hurdles to demonstrate their fitness for headships. I am sure that the TTA would not want people who are asked to leap such hurdles to be allowed to go ahead on some fast track system. The proposal aims at securing training and development that is fit for the purpose in the case of each participant. For that reason, considerable emphasis has been placed on the initial process of needs assessment. There is no question of limiting the training available or of short cuts to headship. Equally, where someone is already close to the headship standard, that should be recognised. At no time will we be prepared to compromise the rigour or standards of the NPQH--and I know that would be the case for the TTA. In light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

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