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Head Teachers

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has given consideration to the possibility of introducing a contract system for head teachers.

The form of contract under which head teachers serve is a matter for local education authorities and the governors of voluntary schools. It is open to employers to offer posts on a fixed-term basis if they wish to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as matters now stand a head teacher, however inefficient or incompetent, has virtual security of tenure in that post? If we intend to improve the standards in our schools, should we not introduce a national system for head teachers to be appointed on five-year renewable contracts, thus ensuring that only the best are retained?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the post of head teacher is crucial to the effectiveness of education, but I am not sure that the conversion to a fixed-term contract would necessarily produce the beneficial results that he claims.

Do I understand the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to be asking for mandatory reselection? Is it not a fact that anyone who becomes a head teacher has had a long apprenticeship? If we were to have contracts in every profession, would not the number of people who would be removed by such a device be astronomical? [Horn. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] A spirit of levity seems to have been brought about by my question, which is not fair. The reality is that the main question is aimed at teachers generally, as is the habit of Conservative Members.

I am sure that it is common ground on both sides of the House that we should have the most effective education system possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was right to point to the quality, character and value of head teachers as being crucial. The issue is whether a fixed-term contract would make it less laborious and easier for local education authorities to do their duty towards children by getting rid of ineffective head teachers. There is room for argument on this issue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House, including many members of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, believe that this matter should be looked at again, not only with regard to head teachers but all in education posts? Mandatory reselection or not, all of us have to face electors at least once every five years, and that does not do us any harm.

I repeat that it is open to employers of teachers and head teachers to consider moving to fixed-term contracts if they decide they are advantageous.

Rather than introduce fixed-term contracts for head teachers, would it not be better to reduce their autocratic powers in schools by including in decision-making a much wider spectrum of the school population?

There is room for argument about this matter. However, we can all agree that an effective head teacher is of enormous benefit to the children.