Need to know: the mandatory headteacher qualification

In Scotland all new permanent heads will need a master's-level qualification by August 2020 – but not in private schools

Emma Seith

All new headteachers in Scotland will need to have a master's-level qualification called Into Headship by August next year

Every new headteacher in Scotland will have to hold the master's-level Into Headship qualification by August next year. However, the Scottish government has decided the new duty will not apply to private schools. Also, temporary headteachers will be able to be appointed by state schools without the qualification for a period of 30 months after the new rules come into force due to fears that posts could go unfilled.

Here, we examine the Scottish government’s plans and the profession’s response.

What does the qualification involve?

The new qualification – introduced in 2015 and due to become mandatory in 2020 – is called Into Headship. Those who achieve the qualification, which was designed by the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and takes between 12 and 18 months to complete, gain 60 master's-level credits and achieve the so-called Standard for Headship.

The target group for the qualification is those whose next post will be that of headteacher within two to three years.


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Background: Independent heads face mandatory master's


Is it well-regarded?

The general consensus is that Into Headship is “worthwhile”, as Jim Thewliss, the leader of secondary heads’ organisation School Leaders Scotland, put it in an interview with Tes Scotland in 2018. The problem, though, is whether or not enough people will have completed it by 2020 to provide councils with a selection of candidates they can choose from when it comes to filling posts. Already headteacher recruitment is a major challenge for councils.

How many aspiring heads have completed it so far?

More than 750. In 2015, 119 teachers achieved the standard; in 2016, 142 achieved it; in 2017, 155 achieved it; in 2018, 166 achieved it; and, in 2019, 180 achieved it.

Is that enough?

Tes Scotland has asked the Scottish government in the past if enough aspiring heads will hold the qualification. In response, it said that because headteacher recruitment was a matter for local authorities, it was up to them to ensure they had enough teachers joining the Into Headship programme. The spokesman added that the Scottish government had committed to funding the course fees and was pleased with the level of recruitment to date.

So are councils doing enough to ensure that the pool of potential candidates is big enough?

Not according to a report from the government group set up to tackle headteacher recruitment, which reported last year. It found that "significant concerns" remain about “the long-term sustainability of current headteacher recruitment”.

It said that local authorities needed “to give greater consideration to the implications of the mandatory headship qualification for their workforce and in particular to identify and support primary teachers with the potential to take the step to headship”.

The report also highlighted that just because people have a headship qualification it doesn’t mean they will become a headteacher. It found that more than 400 teachers held headship qualifications but were not in headteacher roles. 

What do the professional organisations say?

A survey by Scotland’s primary school leaders recently found that the role of headteacher is becoming increasingly unappealing as far as deputes and principal teachers are concerned. The Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) found that 60 per cent of depute heads disagreed with the statement “I am keen to become a headteacher”, compared with 48 per cent in 2016.

It says it has no problem with the content of Into Headship but that it could well prove to be another barrier to promoted staff making the leap to head. Greg Dempster, AHDS general secretary, argues that, as well as paying for staff to undertake the qualification, time should be freed up during working hours for them to study.

The AHDS survey showed that 77 per cent of those who had completed Into Headship thought it had provided a good preparation for becoming a head, but fewer than half (46 per cent) agreed that the workload was manageable.

So what if a local authority cannot find the right person with the right qualification?

For a period of 30 months after the new rules come into force in August 2020, councils will be able to appoint headteachers on a temporary basis who do not have the qualification. But education secretary John Swinney has said that the 30 months is “a hard boundary” and if after the period they have not completed the qualification, “they should not be able to be a headteacher”.

Why do the plans not apply to private schools?

They did at the beginning but the Scottish government backed off after independent schools protested. At first the government argued the move would ensure "all local authority schools have properly qualified headteachers" and would address "leadership issues within both the grant-aided and independent sectors". However, private schools objected saying they were more likely to be recruiting from outside Scotland and therefore applicants would not have the qualification.

They also argued that the requirement would take away the board of governors' autonomy to employ the person they think best suits their school. As one independent school head put it: “It's not the government's role to decide who runs an independent school – they're independent."

What does the government say about private schools?

The gist of it seems to be that because the government had already made it compulsory for all private school teachers to register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, it considered this further requirement to be a bridge too far. Mr Swinney told the education committee last week “there was agreement that the regulations relating to the independent sector would not be brought forward, because we were bringing in GTCS registration in full for all teachers in the sector”.

He added: “At present, it is not our intention to extend the requirement to hold the standard for headship to headteacher appointments in independent schools; therefore, only state and grant-aided schools fall within the scope of the regulations.”

More information on Into Headship can be found here

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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