TRAINING for headteachers , the cornerstone of the Scottish Executive's plans for continuing professional development, is being seriously undermined by excessive workload, uneven access to courses and patchy local support, it is claimed.
Secondary heads, deputes and assistants are now questioning the purpose of the Scottish Qualification for Headship that is being heavily backed by ministers in its first full year of operation. They say if it is to become mandatory over the next few years it will need substantial changes.
A survey by the Headteachers' Association of Scotland in 17 authorities reveals strong concern about entry to the scheme and parity of experience across Scotland. Some areas are already experiencing a drop-off in interest, an experience shared south of the border where the qualification has been running longer.
Alex Easton, the HAS's education convener and head of Falkirk High, said the idea of a reflective, self-evaluating professional was "intrinsically good" but the scheme was riddled with inconsistencies. "The chances of selection vary disturbingly widely. In some areas, there is only one place for four secondary applicants and in other areas everyone is accepted in the absence of real selection criteria for the formal interviews," Mr Easton said.
Heads report a basic unfairness in the system, especially if the qualification is increasingly viewed as the only route to headship. Good candidates may be being blocked.
Mr Easton said the Scottish Executive's target of having three qualified candidates for every vacancy meant twoout of three would not become heads. "Does it make sense to have this as the only purpose if by definition most will not become heads? Should it be a qualification for senior management instead?" he asked.
Workload is a major concern. "Almost all respondents commented on the high level of pressure and heavy demands of the course. The rigorous period of study and course submissions is difficult considering candidates are discharging already demanding work roles. The academic - practical balance is probably weighted towards the academic," Mr Easton said.
"Accelerated route " candidates - for example, experienced deputes - were particularly challenged. "Two comments were 'I don't know how I am going to fit it in ' and 'just too demanding for anyone doing a full-time school management post'," Mr Easton said.
Another influential head described the workload o n the accelerated route as "absolutely horrendous".
Some HAS members say the work is "stimulating" while others say some of the teaching and the quality of sessions varies from excellent to poor. The majority of 270 candidates are financially well supported because of the pound;4 million investment by the Executive but many do not receive the back up they anticipated. In one of the worst cases, a head who was expected to be a mentor had received no information about his role.
Mr Easton said members of the association felt that the criteria for success or failure had been inadequately explained. "There is no quantitative or qualitative judg ment. It's deemed satisfactory or unsatisfactory," he said.
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman rejected the accusations. "Feedback has been positive," she said.