Qualities of a leader

For England's National College for School Leadership, school success is about more than good teaching

Since the late 1990s, improving school leadership has come to feature prominently on the education policy agendas of OECD and other countries. This is based on the recognition that improving education outcomes within and across schools hinges not just on good teaching and school management, but on motivating teachers, establishing positive school environments and, increasingly, popularising best practices so that other schools may benefit.

England was among the first nations to act on this recognition, establishing the National College for School Leadership in 2000, with the remit of providing professional development for school leaders. “Our whole focus is developing and improving leadership, and we aim to make provisions for leaders at all different stages of their career,” says the National College’s international managing director, Jonathan Dale. Indeed while the role of the head teacher is an important one, the college recognises the value of other leadership roles in moulding a school's strategy, including deputies, heads of year and those with curriculum responsibilities.

Through a network of licensed partners the college delivers a variety of programmes to thousands of education professionals each year. Prominent among these is National Leaders of Education (NLE) programme, which encourages successful heads and their schools to work with those that are not performing as well. Experienced head teachers can apply but to qualify they must meet rigorous criteria. The aspiring NLE must have a very strong leadership team and their school – which if successful will become a "National Support School" – must be ranked as outstanding by the country’s official inspection body, Ofsted. The NLE, along with chosen staff from his or her school, will then work closely with the leadership teams of under-performing schools to provide advice, support and consultancy.

According to Department of Education data, 870 schools have been supported by NLEs in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011, and the performance of these schools' has improved faster than at schools where NLEs are not deployed. Results improvement in NLE-supported primary schools was 3.1% faster than other schools in the first year following the start of support and 2.2% faster in the second year. For NLE-supported secondary schools, the rates of improvement were 2.5% faster than non-supported schools in the first year following the start of support and by 1.3% more in the second year.

There were initial concerns that standards at an NLE-supported school might suffer if the head is engaged in helping other schools, but Mr Dale claims that such worries have proven unfounded. “In the vast majority of cases," he says, "both the supported school and the school providing support have seen results improve.”

For these reasons, the NLE programme has been extended by the current government. “There is continued recognition at government level of the importance of outstanding school leadership, not least as the system becomes more devolved,” says Mr Dale.

Today there are over 600 NLEs within the system, and the college aims to double this by 2015. “It works because it is the system supporting itself, rather than [having changes] being driven from the top,” says Mr Dale. “Heads are also driven by a moral purpose to make a difference, so funding has not been a major issue.”  The college funds the recruitment and designation of heads but commissioning bodies, such as local authorities, meet the cost of deployments and negotiate with supporting schools. So in the current economic climate, funding may become more of an issue.

Another of the National College's flagship programmes is the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) – which prepares aspiring head teachers or academy principals. Introduced in 1997, the NPQH programme and qualification effectively became the England-wide standard for those wishing to become head teachers. According to the National College, 35,000 have graduated with the qualification and 58% of current school heads hold the NPQH. Widely viewed as a step forward in raising professional standards for heads, the qualification was made mandatory in 2009. In 2011, however, the Department of Education decided to make the qualification optional rather than mandatory – a decision criticised by some educators as lowering the bar for entry, but defended by the government as a move to increase school autonomy

Mr Dale points also points out that despite becoming voluntary, the NPQH's content is becoming more demanding and the bar for entry into the programme is being raised. Among other changes, the number of training modules entrants must complete has increased, as is the number of days spent in placement in head positions. As a result, Mr Dale believes, the NPQH will become the 'mark of quality' that governing bodies and academy boards rely on when appointing head teachers and principals. He points out that “many adverts for head teacher positions ask for the NPQH qualification.”


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