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Goodbye National College, Hello Foundation for Leadership in Education

By Peter Pearson - 2nd Sep 2016

Goodbye National College, Hello Foundation for Leadership in Education

After 4 changes of name and a lot of uncertainty, it’s been announced that the National College of Teaching and Leadership is to close and be replaced by a new ‘Foundation for Leadership in Education’.

20Q director Peter Pearson gives a personal view of the ups and downs of the past 16 years, first as a Headteacher and latterly as a facilitator working with many teachers on leadership programmes.

He hopes that the new Foundation will find a way to build on the good features of the past as it seeks to make high quality CPD something all teachers and schools can benefit from.

A Personal View

I remember being quite excited in the year 2000, when Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the formation of the “National College for School Leadership”.

As the Headteacher of a rural Somerset primary school I was delighted that the infinitely challenging but ever rewarding business of school leadership was finally being given the high profile I felt it deserved.

Two years later the imposing “Learning and Conference centre’ was opened by the Prime Minister at the Jubilee campus of Nottingham University and a little later I hosted a visit by an NCSL associate interested in some of the innovative forms of collaboration my school shared with other rural schools in its area. Not much came directly from that visit but unknown to me I would have many points of contact with the National College and its successors in the coming years.

The year 2000 was significant for me in other ways too.

For several years I’d felt that leaders in Education had been missing out on a lot of “good stuff” that was happening in the wider culture. Some of my fellow teachers and Heads were too inclined to look within and assume that schools were so different from other leadership situations that they had nothing to learn from them.

‘My looking out’ involved finding out what I could about leadership, management, coaching and the form of applied psychology called NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I spent my ‘Headlamp’ grant on becoming a Head on a 20 day NLP practitioner training (there was no NPQH in the 1990s) and in the summer of that millennial year I attended an international gathering at the University of California campus at Santa Cruz.

My new learning opened up opportunities in two possible directions.

The first was in the whole area of ‘Special Educational Needs’. For example I learned techniques to help students with ADHD gain better control over their own minds without the needs for Ritalin or other drugs, and used these very successfully in my own school.

The second, ‘NLP Spelling Strategy” helped students become better spellers by changing the way they thought - literally learning to visualise words better. Some of these ideas got taken up under the ‘Accelerated Learning’ umbrella, (often in a very superficial way), but many of them remain underdeveloped in schools to this day.

However I chose a different path.

Like every other teacher I’ve ever spoken to, I have a vision for a place of learning where every child can flourish. Such a vision can only become a reality where there are leaders who can overcome all the obstacles in their way and inspire a team of teachers to create something exceptional.

Helping established and emerging leaders access the “good stuff” in the culture to become better leaders seemed - and seems - the most worthwhile way I could spend my time.

Goodbye National College

First it was NCSL, then briefly, NCLSCS, then NCSL again, then since 2013 NCTL (National College of Teaching and Leadership, and part of the DfE). Confusing!

Its 230,000 programme places since the year 2000 have been used by teachers and governors from 96% of English secondary schools and 79% of primary schools. It would be hard for an individual to give a fair and balanced evaluation of so much activity, and of how well the annual £120 million budget was spent, though I’m always interested to hear of people’s experiences.

All I can fairly do is highlight some of the things that I felt were done well and that I hope will be taken on board by the new Foundation for Leadership In Education once it is properly launched.

13 Years of Educational Leadership Programmes

Since 2003 I’ve worked with several thousand teachers on a wide range of National College leadership and coaching skills courses (if you are interested they are LLE, NPQH, NPQSL, NPQML, MATD, SIP, LftM, Leadership Pathways and MLDP). I have often asked teachers what they have valued most about the courses and so here is a summary of five things they’ve said:

Time away from the classroom to breathe, reflect and think strategically

Of course it is expensive to provide supply cover and tough decisions have to be made about what can be afforded. One way or another there needs to be a space in which teachers can gain an objective view about what they have been doing and the freedom to imagine newer and better ways.

The chance to compare notes with colleagues from other schools

How are we doing? Hearing of others’ experiences can be inspiring, comforting or challenging.

Real world applications

A merely theoretical leadership course isn’t much use. Participants need the chance to work on a real life challenge that needs their work-in-progress leadership skills. And current practitioners sharing their best practice also makes it real.

Unbiased input

I don’t have an axe to grind. But I am interested in excellent leadership to give children the best life chances. There’s now a lot of literature about what works. Let’s engage in this process. Whether your current school is a model of best practice or not, you can learn to be a better leader.

Opportunities to grow in Self Awareness

Without exception, to grow as a leader means to grow as a person. You can’t become a totally different person - you have to work with the grain of who you are. Teachers have repeatedly told me the following 3 things have helped them on this journey: a 360º diagnostic (being affirmed in their strengths and having an outline of where to go next), a personality profiles tool to understand what kind of person they and their colleagues are, and, for those lucky enough to receive it, high quality coaching to support and challenge them along the way.

Welcome to the Foundation for Leadership in Education

Sponsored by 2 unions (NAHT and ASCL) and the National Governors Association, this new organisation has the remit to replace the National College with a ‘profession-led’ body to help deliver a ‘school-led, self-improving’ education system.

That’s a big ask!

How much momentum has been lost by the National Colleges’ frequent changes of name and function, and to what extent do schools still look to a centralised body compared to the growing local networks that exist in many areas?

The new Foundation will certainly face its challenges, but under the recently announced chairmanship of Sir Michael Barber I’m sure it will give it a good go, and I wish it well.

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

In the meantime

If you are creating your own leadership program we may be able to support you with some of the elements you’ll need. Do please get in touch.

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