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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future