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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Heads' college builds for future
There will be 20,000 delegates each year

What is the collective noun for head teachers? An assembly? Or maybe there isn't one because head teachers are solitary creatures and you never see them together.

And this can be a problem for heads, working in isolation, facing huge responsibilities with not much in the way of peer group support.

Everyone says that head teachers are vital to improving standards - but how can they be given training and motivation?

Heather du Quesnay
Heather du Quesnay wants heads to lead a new wave of school improvement

The National College for School Leadership was set up to provide this support and professional development for heads and senior staff.

And next month the education secretary will formally open its newly-built, 28m headquarters at Nottingham.

The leadership college, which has been running in the University of Nottingham for two years, is claimed as the only such national institution in the world.

Heads' hotel

Now it will have purpose-built premises, which will provide conference facilities and residential courses for up to 20,000 delegates a year.

Staircase at NCSL, Nottingham
The design is intended to be open, inviting and modern

It is a mixture of training centre and hotel, within a style-conscious building, with light-filled open areas, plenty of bare wood and steel.

The leadership college was initially dubbed the "Sandhurst for schools", but it feels more like a Scandinavian business park.

There is a strong emphasis on technology, with online computers in the delegates' bedrooms and screens and whiteboards wherever you look.

This reflects that the building will be the hub of a virtual network of head teachers, who participate in an online community.

'Knowledge economy'

And the new building could be seen as a metaphor for the arrival of the knowledge economy, "re-cycling" land formerly used by the city's bicycle industry.

Bedrooms at the NCSL, Nottingham
The bedrooms are above the meeting places

The college's chief executive, Heather du Quesnay, says that the quality of the building should reflect and reinforce the status of the profession.

And the government will be looking to the college to upgrade teachers' professionalism - training the next generation of heads and introducing professional qualifications for leadership.

Anyone who has been to a training centre will know the kind of set-up - name badges, coffee, feedback sessions, jargon, aspirational stuff about creativity and flexibility, and lots of management-speak on whiteboards.

But the difference is that this kind of centre has never been available to education before - and head teachers, looking after hundreds of lives and millions of pounds, have never had a focal point for their particular needs.

Heather du Quesnay wants the college to help school leaders to create a more systematic and consistent approach to improving teaching and learning.

"There are too many inconsistencies, not just between different schools, but within schools. We've been bad at spreading knowledge, even between classrooms in the same school," she says.

Head teachers can be shown research-based ways of raising standards, which they can apply in their schools. "Less opinion and more fact," she says.

Cash with conditions

The extra money announced for schools in this summer's review of public spending has highlighted the role of head teachers as central to plans to reform teaching.

The cash injection came with warnings that struggling head teachers could be removed from schools - and that federations of schools could be run by "chief executive" style heads.

"Heads are in a pretty tough and exposed position, responsible for the life chances of whole groups of children," she says.

And she hopes to offer the training and support that heads and aspiring heads might need to cope with the changes ahead.

See also:

07 Mar 00 | Education
23 Nov 00 | Education
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