All headteachers could be made to study for a mandatory master's-level qualification under plans unveiled by the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL).
The new college has set out proposals for leadership development that it hopes will, in the long term, include a specialist master's qualification for all new school leaders in Scotland.
Headteachers' organisations welcomed the idea, saying it could help to solve the current recruitment crisis by providing more structured routes into such roles.
However, they also expressed concerns over the funding and timing of the plans. They worried, too, that the qualifications could exacerbate leadership shortages by creating another hoop for potential headteachers to jump through.
A consultation paper published by the SCEL last week outlines plans to develop a compulsory preparatory "into headship" qualification, to be completed by all new leaders. This would be converted to a full master's qualification after completing a period of "extended induction" in a headteacher role. The proposed headship programme would have two intakes each year, with recruitment and selection carried out by the SCEL.
The paper also says that participation in leadership development opportunities could start earlier in an aspiring headteacher's career.
The SCEL said that, in the short term, the compulsory standard for headship would be completion of the preparatory qualification, but in the longer term it hoped that all Scotland's new school leaders would complete a full master's degree.
This is in line with recommendations from the Scottish government's 2011 report Teaching Scotland's Future, which highlights the value of master's-level learning for all teachers.
Gillian Hamilton, chief executive of the SCEL, told TESS: "The proposals build on the strengths of current headship preparation but align it more firmly in the context of master's learning.
"We know that high-quality leadership is crucial in improving experiences and outcomes for all learners. Therefore, we need to ensure that aspiring school leaders are both supported and challenged in their professional learning, with sustained leadership development opportunities that take account of the relationship between theory and on-the-job learning."
Ms Hamilton also said that providing ongoing learning opportunities for new headteachers once they were in post was not just about ensuring career-long development but about supporting leaders in the specific context of their schools.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of headteachers' association School Leaders Scotland, called the SCEL's consultation paper a "genuine response to Teaching Scotland's Future".
However, he added that although arguments could be advanced for making the new qualification compulsory, there were still "general concerns around equity across the country".
He said access had to be "available to all suitable candidates" and that "flexibility should be the cornerstone". But he also warned that the qualifications must not become a barrier to appointing new headteachers at a time when recruitment and retention were already a major issue.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS), said that mandatory pre-headship training had "the potential to be hugely positive".
He added: "This consultation starts to bring to life a policy that has been waiting in the wings for many years, so is a welcome early step from the SCEL. Preparation for headship varies enormously across Scotland and could be considered to play a part in the reasons for the very low application rates for headteacher posts."
However, Mr Dempster said that the AHDS had concerns around "timing, funding and the numbers required". He said that the timescale for a mandatory qualification had to be "realistic" and "any suggestion" that the financial burden for completing the qualification should fall at the teacher's door would be "a very bad idea".
To ensure an adequate supply of candidates for headteacher posts, the number working towards the new qualification had to be sufficiently large, he stressed.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said it supported the consultation. "We will be working closely with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and the National Implementation Board to consider the outcome," she said.
A report in 2012 by the government's National Partnership Group stated that all aspiring headteachers should have an appropriate qualification or professional award in leadership within five years, and that the SCEL should lead the development of any new qualification.