This time last year universities were looking forward with some nervousness to the implementation of the Teacher Training Agency's National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). Concern focused on the validity of the new qualification structure, which many saw as narrow and utilitarian, and on the future of existing Masters courses in educational management.
John Cocking from East London University spoke for many other course leaders when he said: "People are very busy in schools, there's only a finite amount of time available. Realistically they are only going to do one qualification."
Twelve months on, the worries about course viability would appear to have been unjustified. Universities The TES has spoken to report that MEd and MA numbers are stable, with some institutions reporting an increase.
Ron Glatter at the Open University argues that deputy heads looking for promotion are only a small part of the Masters market. "It's a segment, 10 to 20 per cent of the total MEd market."
Other people interested in a Masters qualification could include heads spending their Headlamp money, classroom teachers, curriculum co-ordinators, people in FE or adult education - even some from outside teaching.
Pat Collarbone at London's Institute of Education made the point that many applicants for the NPQH already had a Masters qualification. Others felt that the real impact of the NPQH would come once the qualification was made compulsory. Even then the effect may not be negative.
Ron Glatter felt that once every applicant for headship had a NPQH, then governing bodies would be looking for other ways to discriminate between candidates.
"People may need to do Masters qualifications or doctorates to make themselves stand out."
The OU is anticipating this demand by allowing an NPQH to count as a module worth 90 points, effectively half a Masters degree. Leeds Metropolitan will soon do the same and others may follow.
Such qualifications inflation may be welcome on campus, but it's hardly good news for deputy heads looking at their existing workload and contemplating the considerable demands on their time which the process will entail. Harry Tomlinson at Sheffield University sees this as a problem the training agency will be unable to ignore.
At present the training agency will consider accreditation of prior learning and experience for some modules of NPQH, but the core assessments have been sacrosanct. Tomlinson believes that circumstances will force a softening of that stance.
"They're not going to get enough people," he said. "There are going to have to be accelerated routes through the process." One way round that problem would be to allow people to go direct to the assessment tasks - something the TTA has set its face against.
There were complaints about the huge amount of paper generated and of the didactic nature of the resultant teaching. Candidates were said to be motivated solely by the "need to get through".
Significantly, candidates who get headships were dropping out of the system rather than completing the course. Pat Collarbone felt that there were inevitably going to be some candidates for the NPQH who were jumping the hoops to headship rather than extending their own professional knowledge.
But people who drop out on obtaining headships may not necessarily be rejecting the NPQH. Harry Tomlinson feels that new heads will want to concentrate on their post and that too much should not be read into a few withdrawals.
HOW'S IT GOING SO FAR?
* Nearly 4,000 have so far signed up for the National Professional Qualification for Headship which was launched in the autumn after a pilot study last year.
* A ratio of 16 primary teachers to four secondary and one from special education is the aim (16:4:1).
* Take-up so far shows a ratio of 5:4:0.2.
* The TTA is concerned about the shortfall from primary and special schools. There is also concern about low numbers of women and ethnic minority applicants.
* The Government says headship qualifications will be compulsory by April 2002.
* From this month education authorities will be able to claim 50 per cent of the costs of NPQH, an increase from 20 per cent currently.