Leading article: Headteachers need not feel threatened

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The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, will face one of the most testing moments of his ministerial career when he addresses 900 of the country's secondary school headteachers this morning.

Last year, when he spoke at the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference and there was still an element of novelty about the Coalition, Mr Gove told his audience what a good job most of them were doing and they basked in his praise. A year on, however, the full extent of the Government's education reforms is clearer. And the Education Secretary has not only drawn attention to the failings in the system in order to make his case for change, but also briefed the new Chief Schools Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to be unforgiving in the drive to improve standards. Add the fact that record numbers of headteachers and senior managers have been sacked this year – as this newspaper reported yesterday – and ASCL poll results showing teachers to be increasingly demoralised, and deputies less willing than ever to risk the top job, are not entirely surprising.

There may, of course, be individual cases of overenthusiastic governing bodies in newly created academies and free schools that are too quick to blame the headteacher if exam results do not improve. But that does not mean the structure of Mr Gove's policies are wrong. Academies and free schools will give heads more freedom to manoeuvre and, by and large, any headteacher worth their salt is unlikely to fall foul of their governing body.

Put simply, headteachers have a tendency to overreact to government announcements. When Mr Gove introduced the English Baccalaureate, for example, many immediately shifted pupils on to qualifying courses to give their school a good league table position, rather than simply accepting the EB as one of several measures of their school's success and focusing on pupils' individual needs. The best headteachers are those who remain calm and do what they think is best, taking full advantage of the extra freedoms Mr Gove's reforms offer them.

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