They’re tomorrow’s generation of headteachers. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi talks to two ambitious Birmingham teachers who have just passed their professional headship exam to find out what motivates them to aspire to one of the most difficult jobs around.
If you think pupils are over-tested, spare a thought for teachers that want to lead a school.
Since April 2004, it’s been mandatory for them to pass their National Professional Qualification for Headship exam – a vigorous assessment that can last anything from two to six years. Without this, it is now simply impossible to progress towards a headship.
Last week, 20 Birmingham teachers became graduates of the relatively new qualification, set by the National College for School Leadership. But what could possibly possess them to aspire to put their head on the block as leader of a school?
"I got into teaching because I like working with kids and I want to make schools a better place," said Gordon Farquhar, an assistant principal at Cockshut Hill Technology College in Yardley, Birmingham.
"If you have that attitude you can start progressing through. Yes, it is demanding, but a classroom affects the lives of everyone they teach. A headteacher effects more than that."
Mr Farquhar, aged 32, got his first job in a Kent school as a PE teacher on the day Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister.
The NPQH qualification was also introduced in 1997 – the year New Labour got into power, though it was another seven years before it became compulsory.
Mr Farquhar believes the exam, which is only for teachers with some experience of leadership, is well worth the effort.
"It’s hard work. It’s a vigorous process you have to go through. They come in and do a school assessment and they want to see evidence of various criteria including what impact things you have done have had on the school.
"There were 25 different files I had to submit for them to look through on 25 ways to make schools a better place for kids."
Mr Farquhar believes the qualification underlines the vital role headteachers have in taking a school forward.
And it’s a job that will only become more significant as heads steer their schools through changing waters within education in the coming years.
"The world now is a very different place," said Mr Farquhar, who lives in Nuneaton. "The Government is bringing in things like independent learning which will take schools to the next level.
"It is a very exciting time in education. Schools are changing. They are working more collaboratively. Schools in ten years time will not be remotely similar to the schools we have now."
It’s a view shared by Rebecca Foster of Forestdale Primary School in Frankley, Birmingham, who has also just gained her NPQH qualification.
"The role of the headteacher is much more complex," said the 38-year-old deputy head. "Schools are becoming much more part of the community. They now really have to work with the local community whether they like it or not providing an extended service."
Ms Foster, who has been deputy head for two-and-a-half years, believes she needs another couple of years experience before taking her first headship.
But doing the NPQH has helped give her the confidence to take the next step.
"A lot of the training they provide and the skills they talk about you look through and think ‘I can do that’. It reinforces what you are already doing."
And what are the key skills needed to be a good headteacher?
"Communication and the ability to listen. You have to be able to make decisions and communicate clearly to parents," said Ms Foster. "It is taking risks as well. One of the best things you can do is to think outside the box."
For Mr Farquhar it’s all about inspiring others to follow.
"You have to be able to get other people to share in your vision," he said. "That means pupils, staff, parents and governors. You must not be scared to put your head above the parapet and do what is needed to take the school forward."