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Better heads need better training

Over the holiday period aspiring headteachers learnt that they will have to possess a Scottish Qualification for Headship (TESS, January 2). The Education Minister made clear, after a consultation exercise, that the qualification is to be mandatory, although heads in post will not be expected to undertake it in the manner of an elderly driver resitting a test.

The consultation had shown a welcome for the proposal. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any section of the teaching profession rejecting it. Staffroom critics of a head's leadership skills would argue for better training or for a pre-appointment qualification. Heads themselves have argued not only that their role has become much more complex but that its demands set them apart from other teachers. This has been the basis for seeking more money and for distancing heads from the obligations membership of a teachers' union has put on them at times of dispute. Formal preparation for the job is an inescapable consequence of the argument.

The secondary heads' association has some doubts about the mandatory nature of Brian Wilson's decision. But it is clear that whatever the formal status of the qualification it will in practice become necessary before a job application is taken seriously. The real questions surround the nature of the preparation leading to the qualification. It should be about teaching and learning, not administration, say the unions. It should be practical and based on work in schools, said respondents to the consultation paper.

Care should be taken, however, in making a distinction between education and administration. The emphasis should be on educational leadership, which must nowadays include management skills and techniques. It is right to maintain the difference between managing a business and managing a school. But a head today is more than just the senior teacher. He or she should have accumulated enough classroom and curriculum experience before achieving a headship. It is other aspects of the job which new heads find unfamiliar and challenging. There is, for example, no preparation for what might be termed the political role, between councillors and the director of education on the one hand and the school board on the other.

Relevant training delivered by people familiar with today's schools may encourage promoted primary staff to apply for a headship. Too many schools have difficulty in filling a short leet. In secondaries, a combination of the new qualification and the preparation provided by posts at assistant and deputy head level should ensure that appointees can immediately meet the formidable challenges of the job. In no school these days is it enough to lead by learning as you go.

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