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A milestone on the road to excellence

Despite recent criticism, the SQH has had a positive impact on school leadership, says Jennifer Kerr

The Standard for Headship has for the past six years been the framework for the design of programmes providing a postgraduate diploma in educational leadership and management, leading to the professional award of the Scottish Qualification for Headship.

To date, the programme has been very successful. It has been the path breaker to a new form of continuing professional development involving a substantial focus on work-based learning, providing a model for key aspects of the chartered teacher programme, such as portfolio construction.

The independent national evaluation of the programme by Ian Menter of Paisley University found that it had a positive impact on participants'

leadership and management practice as well as on the practice of the management team as a whole; that the strongest impact was on the learning and teaching culture of the school; and that the work-based learning model, which underpins the programme, empowers and inspires confidence in graduates.

Positive findings from other research are that the role of field assessors, experienced headteachers who mark and validate all work-based assignments, provides an excellent opportunity which accords with the strategic leadership level of continuing pro-fessional development for educational leaders.

The new SQH programmes, currently being devised by three partnerships involving higher education institutions and local authorities, are significantly different from what has gone before, reflecting much experience and many evaluations, not least from the participants themselves.

For example, at Edinburgh University the proposed new programme will become a six-module diploma, which will allow school staff not yet aspiring to headship to benefit from access to one or more modules which match their specific personal CPD agenda. The programme will remain very much the successful blend of work-based development, supported by academic study and critical reflection of the research and literature.

From next year, all new programmes designed to meet the standard require accreditation from the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Applicants will require to demonstrate successful experience of team or project management, local authorities will need to ensure a supportive work-based learning context and providers must offer a university-validated programme with the opportunity to claim up to 50 per cent of the programme as prior experiential learning.

Recent criticism of the SQH programme has focused on its academic nature and on the calibre of its graduates. Academic study is indeed one aspect of the programme and one much appreciated by its participants for its challenge and relevance to their work-based projects, which make up 60 per cent of the time.

Given the complex demands of leading a learning organisation, any call to remove the academic content of programmes leading to attainment of the standard (which has an element called "intellectual abilities") should be resisted.

As with any competence-based programme, there are a few participants who just manage to meet the standard after much support and personal effort.

The reasons can be many - lack of appropriate experience, lack of support in the workplace or perhaps difficulty with the level of commitment required. A fair response to this situation is surely not to criticise the overall programme, but rather to be glad that its rigour ensures that most graduates more than meet the standard.

The issue of whether there are enough graduates to support the mandatory status of the standard by next year is of concern. It is three years since the then Education Minister announced mandatory status, with no effort by any agency or provider in the interim to develop alternative routes.

The time is ripe, within the developing national CPD arrangements, to encourage diversity. A recent proposal that accreditation of prior experiential learning should be considered, just as for chartered teacher status, is worth considering.

The key demonstrable link, whatever the route, must be that between leadership practice and effective teaching and learning, resulting in improved pupil achievement and experience.

The debate about the leadership of our schools is gradually creeping up the agenda. It is very encouraging that the Scottish Executive is considering a range of possible leadership programmes to meet the diverse needs of Scottish headteachers and that the inspectorate has plans to exemplify excellence in leadership.

Particularly encouraging is Education Minister Peter Peacock's recent endorsement of the Standard for Headship and the contribution, to date, of the SQH programmes.

Jennifer Kerr is SQH programme leader at Edinburgh University.

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