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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Qualified Nursery nurs...

Primary Teachers needed for supply in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: We are looking to rec...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments