The mandatory requirement for headteachers to have passed the standard for headship from next year should be abandoned, according to the registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
"It is neither credible nor reputable," Matthew MacIver said in his address to the conference. The failure to attract sufficient candidates for heads'
posts was a worrying sign of the times.
Mr MacIver reminded the conference that the GTC had lost - "lost gloriously, but lost none the less" - a battle with the Scottish Executive over its insistence that there should only be an academic route to achieving the standard.
The chartered teacher programme had since shown that an alternative approach based on professional practice could be developed, using accreditation of prior learning, he said. "This is a recognition that what teachers do in their professional lives is not only important, but can be accredited as important."
A discussion on whether the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH) should be the only route was sparked by Margaret Alcorn, the new "tsar" for continuing professional development. Mrs Alcorn warned: "We need more exciting approaches to CPD and we should begin by looking at the way we develop leadership."
The SQH, Mrs Alcorn said, was failing to develop the calibre of candidates required for headship. "The SQH works for some, but not for all," she said and added: "Many education authorities struggle to get people on to the programme and some of those who are accepted are not really ready for headship."
The approach to developing leadership, she suggested, should draw on the expectations teachers have of pupils: that different people learn in different ways. The SQH did not acknowledge that.
This view was reinforced by Paul MacBride, management development adviser in Glasgow City Council's education department. Mr MacBride said that he would continue to use the SQH but would include other vehicles for improving headship -such as the Columba 1400 initiative, which one Edinburgh primary head described as "life-changing", and training provided by the Hay Group consultancy.
He agreed with Mrs Alcorn, however, on the crucial importance of getting the right candidates selected to go on leadership training courses.
Mr MacBride revealed later that Glasgow was also considering the experience of the business sector which put its managers through programmes designed to improve emotional intelligence.
A more upbeat note was struck by Sheilah Jackson, head of Queensferry primary in Edinburgh, who said that positive moves in staff development were already happening through the more constructive use of time following the teachers' national agreement.
Peter Peacock, Education Minister, stressed the "huge contribution" made by the SQH but acknowledged the value of exploring other avenues. "The important thing is we have got a standard of competence," Mr Peacock said.
An independent national evaluation of the SQH programme, by Professor Ian Menter of Paisley University, found that it made a positive impact, not only on the participants but on school management teams as a whole.