Where are tomorrow's leaders? And who's going to take up the reins when the current crop of heads ride off into the sunset?
In the past, no one asked these questions. Jobs got advertised and people applied. But study after study has shown that quality of leadership is one of the most crucial factors in school improvement, and it's not something that government is willing to leave to chance, as demonstrated by the decision to make the national professional qualification for headship (NPQH) compulsory.
So it should come as no surprise that in the autumn the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) will pilot a training programme for emergent leaders with 200 middle managers. If things go well, the real thing will be on offer early next year and could then become a required qualification, much like the NPQH.
"Initially, this will not be a qualification, but we wouldn't rule it out in the long term," says the NCSL's director, Heather du Quesnay.
And who will the new award be aimed at? "There is a very big cohort out there - up to a quarter of a million teachers," says the NCSL's project manager, Paul Hammond. "Some 90 per cent of primary school teachers have a co-ordination role and about 40 per cent of secondary teachers are middle managers."
He points out that 20 years ago middle managers in primary schools didn't exist, and in secondaries the job had limited scope.
"It was about the stock cupboard and the syllabus," he says. "But today it's the full gambit of managerial skills - teamwork, performance management, managing behaviour. Many teachers have never had training for this role."
Middle managers have had to deal with increased pressure as schools have become more accountable. "It's a tense role," says Mr Hammond. "It's like the player-manager of a football team. You have to lead, but also perform on the pitch."
The new course has three elements. The first will focus on the knowledge needed to do the job. The second will be skills-based, focusing on everything from decision-making to workload management. Then comes project management, likely to examine research carried out with fellow team members.
It is this team focus which makes the programme so innovative. The course will be aimed at school teams made up of one or two subject leaders and a senior manager. It will last three or four terms and will involve online materials and support, with the BBC responsible for creating a "virtual school" in which leaders can test ideas and examine their virtual consequences.
Some of this may seem familiar. In 1998, the Teacher Training Agency, then in charge of leadership development, was touting the idea of a national professional qualification for subject leadership (NPQSL). Draft standards were published, but the NPQSL was torpedoed by a mixture of practical objections and Treasury spending controls. Financial constraints are still a fact of life, but Heather du Quesnay feels that her budgets are safe. And yet the practical objections are stronger now than they were four years ago.
The main problem for the NPQSL was its catch-all nature. This was to have been an award aimed simultaneously at the experienced primary practitioner in a small rural school and at the head of faculty in a large urban comprehensive. Today, we must add key stage co-ordinators and specialists such as network managers to that list. The reality is that middle managers in education do very different jobs, and producing a course that hits all the possible targets is not going to be easy.
ARE YOU AN EMERGENT LEADER?
The course will be aimed at secondary heads of department, curriculum co-ordinators and key stage co-ordinators. In the first instance, the Government's focus on key stage 3 means that secondary teachers are likely to have priority on the courses, which will be run by the NCSL's regional centres.
Emergent leaders also include pastoral leaders, key stage co-ordinators, special educational needs co-ordinators and those with a cross-curricular responsibility in areas such as PSHE, citizenship and careers.
Applicants don't necessarily have to be considering a move into senior management, but it is important to remember that the format is aimed at small teams of people.
More details about the course will become available later this year.