Sir David Hart: Influential leader of Britain's head teachers

 

A measure of Sir David Hart's influence in government circles can be glimpsed by the following exchange in the early days of New Labour. Tony Blair's education advisers were mulling over a potentially controversial education reform – there were murmurings about how it might be an anathema to the National Union of Teachers followed by silence. A voice, that of a senior adviser, piped up: "Ah, but what do the National Association of Head Teachers think about it?" The implication was that, if they too opposed it, it could be jettisoned to the history books.

Hart, who died of cancer in a hospice near his home in Cumbria, was general secretary of the NAHT for 27 years from 1979 to 2006, dealing with 12 different Education Secretaries during his time in office. He moved the organisation to the centre stage of education politics – making it into one of the most respected and influential of the six teaching organisations.

An indication of his firmness emerged during his first year of office. Britain was in the throes of the winter of discontent. Public service workers were taking industrial action, dustbins went unemptied and dead bodies unburied. He was asked to assure senior civil servants that his members would keep schools open during a caretakers' strike that took place at the same time. He replied firmly that he could not give that assurance. It was up to individual heads themselves to assess the situation in their own schools.

He did not, though, show any party-political allegiances in his dealings with governments of a very different hue. Indeed, in an interview with this newspaper shortly before his retirement he singled out Kenneth (now Lord) Baker and David Blunkett as the two Education Secretaries he had been closest to – one Conservative and one Labour. Baker, he felt, was responsible for the most significant reforms during his period in office, including allowing heads to manage their own school budgets, the forerunner of the academies programme.

Blunkett, he felt, he could have supported more over the introduction of the literacy hour and daily maths lesson in primary schools – widely credited with introducing the first major rise in English and maths standards since the Second World War. His greatest regret, he confided in another interview with the late Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at Exeter University, was that he had been unable to persuade successive governments to abandon their commitment to exam league tables, an issue which still dogs the profession today.

Hart was a solicitor before he took on the NAHT job – the firm he worked for had been acting for the union on legal issues – and there was some criticism that the union had not opted for a serving headteacher to fill the role. That was soon silenced, and even his rivals paid tribute to the negotiating skills he had honed in developing legal arguments in his former career. One said as his retirement approached, "He is very effective with the Department [for Education]. He has got the lawyer's ability to master a brief. He can look through [government] documents and come up with a list of the 27 points that he's unhappy about."

Russell Hobby, the NAHT's current general secretary, said: "He became the public face of school leadership and raised the standing of the profession. At the same time he was a subtle behind-the-scenes campaigner, winning the trust and respect of officials and politicians."

In 1988 Hart was awarded the OBE for services to education, and in 2006, the year he retired, he became Sir David Hart. He accepted his knighthood on behalf of the NAHT and saw it as being as much about recognition of the vital role of headteachers as it was a testament to his own personal achievements.

"It's a great honour for me but I would like to think it's because we [the NAHT] have been able to help school leaders," he said. "We have played a part in making sure that their role is recognised as being absolutely vital to the future of the education of this country – and to the future of the country itself."

Hart did almost literally ride off into the sunset when he retired, swopping a life living out of suitcases in hotels as he traversed the country to settling down with his wife, Frankie, in Cumbria to devote more time to riding his horse. I like to think he could also – from a distance – spend some time looking out for the fortunes of two passions that he shared with me, Middlesex County Cricket Club and Arsenal.

David Michael Hart, solicitor and public servant: born 27 August 1940; General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers 1979-2006; married firstly Mary (marriage dissolved; two sons), 1996 Frances Morton; died 13 March 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head of Ecommerce and Systems

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an Award Winnin...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Director is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Officer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor