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Headship course that is challenging but fun

The Scottish Qualification for Headship has proved popular with many, but its future is now in doubt, writes Raymond Ross

The Scottish Qualification for Headship is a "wonderful programme" because it is a partnership between local authorities and universities and because it is completely work-based learning, says Paul McBride, chair of the SQH programme team for the west of Scotland consortium.

"We're not about producing clones but individual experts.

Eighty per cent of headteachers are already quality leaders. So the SQH is not about making heads more effective but about producing more - numerically speaking - effective headteachers."

Along with Douglas McCreath, lecturer in the faculty of education at Glasgow University, Mr McBride has just finished delivering a day of CPD for SQH candidates in a Renfrew hotel.

The atmosphere is relaxed; there's a great deal of banter and laughter. One group of candidates still chewing the fat with Mr McBride say the programme is strenuous, but they agree it is a quality experience that makes you think about your own professional practice, and that it not only promotes self-awareness but also self-confidence.

An education officer with Glasgow education department and a former headteacher, Mr McBride says the city was in at the start of the SQH five years ago and has produced 80 graduates, some of whom are now headteachers.

The two-and-a-half year course addresses professional values, management functions (managing learning and teaching, people, policy and planning, resources and finance) and professional abilities (interpersonal and intellectual) in a mix of day and twilight classes and meetings.

The drop-out rate among Glasgow candidates is very low and usually for personal reasons (pregnancy, illness or bereavement) rather than professional.

The success rate is due to many factors, beginning with the "quality criterion" for acceptance which includes headteacher references, a self-evaluation presentation and an interview with a panel that includes Mr McBride, Glasgow University staff and experienced headteachers.

"I also think that once you put yourself forward in front of your colleagues you don't want to back down," says Mr McBride.

Putting yourself forward means continuous critical self-assessment. Unit one demands 2,000 to 3,000 words justifying your aspiration to headship.

Along with portfolios, units two and three ask for 6,000 and 5,000 words respectively on school-based projects, plus reflection on learning and personal development backed by appropriate evidence. Unit four includes 4,000 words on a study of a management issue.

Putting yourself forward for the course entails peer assessment, in which your colleagues are asked to comment, "anonymously and in an unchallenging manner", on your management abilities. There is also continuous advice from your "critical friend" or mentor, who is usually your headteacher.

"Candidates also give group presentations on things like preparing a portfolio or a critical reflection on their own practice," says Mr McBride.

"It's about collegiate learning, about encouraging candidates to learn and to evaluate different ideas and approaches. There's plenty of support from the local authority, the university and within their schools. Candidates also meet informally to share ideas and prepare presentations."

The portfolios are assessed by the authority and the university.

Part of Mr McCreath's role is to guide candidates to appropriate research to help with the work-based learning, which is always tailored to national priorities and the school's development plan.

He says: "The west of Scotland consortium's SQH programme is second to none in the way it encourages - and you can see it happening before your eyes - genuine professional change in the candidates. That sustains me and enthuses me. You're dealing with a committed, creative bunch of folk and you have to meet all their individual needs. It's good fun."

But the fun may be under threat. "This group will see the end of the programme in 2005," says Mr McBride. "We have no funding beyond that and Victoria Quay will have to let us know by November this year what the funding situation is."

It's not just a matter of funding, though. "The new chartered teacher qualification is going to be a Masters. The SQH is a diploma. Is it healthy to have headteachers with diplomas while chartered teachers have Masters - or should the SQH evolve?" he asks.

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