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On course for headship

We do not agree with the view expressed by Matthew MacIver, registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (TESS, September 17), that the Scottish Qualification for Headship should not become mandatory for headteacher applicants because it is a purely "academic" route.

First, there is the Standard of Headship itself, to which every aspect of the SQH course must be consciously linked by the candidate. This provides an extremely useful road map for the learner and goes beyond previous models of "management competences". It demands that the candidate demonstrate values and vision, intellectual, interpersonal and reflective qualities - and more importantly is prepared to become a "leading learner".

Second, there is the course. The SQH demands a constructive dialogue between academic and experiential learning. The concept of the reflective practitioner lies at the heart of the SQH - the professional, analysing and developing his or her own practice, through individual and collegial reflection as well as academic study. This is reflected in the assessment, which is not limited to the "academic" part of the course.

Yes, it demands that submissions be of masters level standard, but the assessment goes beyond the limits of traditional masters courses, calling on the candidate to demonstrate practical "on the job" learning as well as academic learning. A course requiring portfolios of school-based evidence against each aspect of the standard cannot be regarded as simply "academic".

Field assessors' visits verify the work in school, together with its "impact and sustainability". The candidate's interpersonal and leadership qualities are also a matter for whole staff evaluation. We know of no "academic" course where candidates are under such scrutiny.

We also disagree with Margaret Alcorn's criticism of the course when she says that it does not acknowledge that people learn in different ways.

The elements of critical self-evaluation, development of a personal learning plan, situational analysis and the wide range of learning experiences built into the SQH, all go together to provide an experience which the individual learner can structure to meet his or her own learning needs as a senior manager.

The SQH, like any other high-quality, experiential learning opportunity, depends for its success on the engagement of the participants and how well they make use of the opportunities it affords for personal change and growth. People who have completed it, however critical they may be of individual aspects of the course, have found it challenging to, and transformative of, thought and practice.

We suspect that this controversy is less about the nature of the SQH, and more about, as Humpty-Dumpty put it, "who is to be master".

Don Cole Depute head Leith Academy

Karen Farquhar DHT Wardie Primary

Liz Grierson Head, Stockbridge Primary

Sheena Archibald DHT Liberton High

Anne Purcell DHT Blackhall Primary

John Wood DHT Firrhill High

Members of SQH Edinburgh cohort.

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