Hundred heads in ‘champions league’ to help ailing schools

Schools Minister David Laws
Schools Minister David Laws
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UP to 100 top headteachers are to be parachuted into struggling schools over the next two years under a new scheme which could have a major impact in Yorkshire.

The new “champions league” of school leaders will be formally launched in the spring, Schools Minister David Laws told the North of England Education Conference (NEEC) in Nottingham yesterday.

It was first announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg last October, and could prove significant in Yorkshire. Ofsted regional director Nick Hudson has previously voiced concern over the low level of Yorkshire’s schools in challenging circumstances which are rated as having outstanding leadership and management.

Mr Laws said: “This programme has the potential to make a powerful contribution to the education of some of our most disadvantaged children. It is about helping schools who want a new outstanding head to find one, providing support to ambitious and aspiring leaders who want to make a real difference by taking on a new challenge, and getting outstanding leaders to the areas of the country where that talent can have the biggest impact.”

The programme will see top performing heads and deputy heads recruited centrally then dispatched to primaries and secondaries across England that are failing, struggling to recruit staff, or based in areas of deprivation, Mr Clegg said last year.

Incentives will be offered to attract the best school leaders, which could include better pay, relocation packages and professional development support, though the details have yet to be finalised. Mr Laws also criticised Labour’s plans for a teacher licensing scheme which he warned could be a “costly and bureaucratic nightmare, He suggested that the move would fail to weed out poor teachers.

Questions need to be answered about how the scheme would be implemented and who would run it, the Minister said. Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt revealed proposals to license teachers earlier this week, saying regular checks would help to give the profession the same standing as doctors and lawyers.

But speaking at the NEEC, Mr Laws expressed doubts about the scheme. “This question is very important – what more can we do to make sure that all of our children are taught by teachers of the very highest calibre? And how can we secure widespread confidence in that quality?

“Personally, I do not think that the answer is to introduce a top-down, Government-administered licensing scheme. Such a scheme could easily become quite a costly and bureaucratic nightmare for schools without positive results.”

Mr Laws suggested that Labour’s proposal could be “as ineffective as the previous Government’s programme for performance- related pay”. This pay scheme, which was meant to reward the best teachers, resulted in “virtually all” teachers ultimately moving up the pay scales, he said.

Mr Laws instead called for a system that links together professional recognition and development for teachers as well as performance management in schools.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “I think that this is one of those political ideas that sounds tempting because the impression is given that you can both improve professional development and also find an easy way of sacking teachers who are not very good.

“But the truth is that when you look at how such a programme would be implemented it’s difficult to resist the conclusion that it could easily become a costly, bureaucratic top down exercise.”

The NEEC is a three-day conference which finishes today.