There may be hundreds, if not thousands, of new teachers clamouring to get onto the bottom rung of the profession. But education authorities are increasingly concerned about their ability to fill leadership posts as the current "baby boom" generation of senior managers retires over the next few years.
South Ayrshire Council has set up its own leadership development programme to ensure its succession planning. The 15 lucky candidates from 36 applicants will embark on a year-long course next month.
"We have to be thinking ahead and asking: `What can we set in place to encourage aspiring leaders in our schools?'" says quality improvement officer David Graham, who is managing the programme.
The 12-month initiative will demand a considerable commitment of the candidates' own time for study, research and preparation. They will be out of school for seven to 10 days across the year, with supply cover provided by the authority.
Mr Graham describes the course as "a step prior to SQH (Scottish Qualification for Headship)", although some on the course will already have achieved the SQH but not yet landed a headship.
Key elements will include:
- the "big picture" of strategic leadership within the authority's children and community department, covering policy areas such as single- outcome agreements, Curriculum for Excellence and Girfec (Getting it Right for Every Child) - to be delivered by the council's heads of service and senior managers;
- a 360-degree personal review, involving peers, pupils, parents and other agencies;
- leading and managing change, examining issues such as how to achieve best value with resources, and how to measure success or impact;
- examination of the work of Keith Grint, professor of public leadership at Warwick Business School, on "Wicked problems and clumsy solutions";
- case studies of different leadership styles;
- a peer-support and consultation process - the 15 candidates will be split into smaller peer groups;
- a work-shadow placement in another school, lasting three to five days, spent on a specific agreed task.
South Ayrshire's head of curriculum and service improvement, Margo Williamson, says the inspiration for the work placement was an article in The TESS (June 5, 2009) describing the benefits of a job-swap between two depute heads - one in Glasgow, the other in West Dunbartonshire.
Other elements have been modelled on leadership courses from a number of areas, not just education.
"The people we are looking to put in promoted posts have to have a much greater awareness of partnership, a political awareness and budget awareness. The job has changed," Ms Williamson explains.
The council's programme could, she says, replace the longer and more expensive SQH. "Not all headteachers have SQH when they get a headship," she adds.
And if heads get the greater autonomy they are seeking, it will be all the more important that aspiring leaders' talents are identified and nurtured, says Ms Williamson.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Cara Ruth, 28, is principal teacher at Sacred Heart Primary in Girvan but has spent the last year as acting depute and then acting head there.
Now that the school's depute head has returned from secondment and the head from a period of illness, she is keen to consolidate the experience of school management she gained.
"I haven't done the SQH (Scottish Qualification for Headship) yet, but I see this leadership development programme not necessarily as an alternative, just an excellent way to develop leadership and management skills and to prepare for the future," she says.
Miss Ruth is particularly attracted by the opportunities for cross- sector working and doing a placement elsewhere which will allow her to shadow other managers and leaders in their schools.
She hopes to have the chance to work in specialist provision. The peer support which will be available from the 14 other candidates on the programme will also be a huge benefit, she believes.
"I didn't feel disadvantaged not having done a course like this, but I certainly think this programme will be structured in such a way that it offers additional support and experience and will put me in a stronger position to go for the next step."
Jane Sibley, 53, is currently depute head at Marr College in Troon, where her remit is mainly in pupil support.
She is unusual, however, in being dual-qualified, having trained originally as a primary teacher and moved into secondary 15 years ago via the pupil-support route, then receiving approval from the General Teaching Council for Scotland as a secondary teacher.
Now she wants to return to the primary sector as a headteacher, but knows that she lacks relevant recent experience of management in the sector.
She has been a secondary depute head for five years and completed her SQH last year.
"What interested me in this programme was that it offered the opportunity to gain experience in the primary sector," she says. "I want to go and look at the Curriculum for Excellence methodology in primary schools and think about how we could improve continuity to secondary," she said.
Mrs Sibley is the primarysecondary link officer for the Marr cluster. Margo Williamson, South Ayrshire's head of curriculum and service improvement, has encouraged her interest in moving to a primary headship, but advised her that she needs to gain more experience of the primary sector.
Mrs Sibley hopes the leadership development programme will give her that through its focus on cross-sector working and placement opportunities.
South Ayrshire Council has also asked Mrs Sibley to carry out research during her year's participation in the programme, on the differences in management between primary and secondary.