Headteachers will soon have access to a national programme of in-service training - or, in management-speak, the opportunity "to enhance and develop their leadership skills".
Estelle Morris, the schools minister, announced last week that the first heads would begin their training next autumn.
The Teacher Training Agency has awarded the contract for designing and developing the programme to the partnership of management consultants HayMcBer, the Open University and the National Association of Headteachers. The partnership will also be responsible for training people to train the heads once the pilot year is over. (Would-be providers will be invited to tender next term.) The TTA says it will have the capacity to train 3,000 to 4,000 heads a year, so the aim is to cover all 24,000 serving heads over the next few years. The cost, as yet unknown, will be met out of the Department for Education and Employment's Standards Fund.
The new programme for serving heads is being launched just as the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) for aspiring heads gets off the ground. That qualification will become mandatory, Ms Morris confirmed recently, but there is no intention that training for serving heads should become compulsory. "The training will be so super-duper and leading edge that all heads will want to do it anyway," said a spokesman for the TTA.
A key element of the programme for serving heads will be an expansion of the "headteacher mentoring" scheme that has been developed in partnership with Business in the Community. Each headteacher on the programme will be given the chance to work with a manager from business or industry, meeting regularly to discuss management problems.
Heads who apply for training will be offered a three-stage programme. The first will involve assessing what the head needs in her or his particular circumstances. This could involve a visit to the school or might be done by confidential questionnaires to the head and other members of the senior management team.
The aim, according to David Patterson, UK managing director of HayMcBer, will be "to get a picture of how the head manages the climate in the school team".
The second stage will be a residential workshop, likely to last three days or more, at which up to a dozen serving heads will meet to discuss "excellence in leadership" under the guidance of tutors. Heads will examine their own dominant management style against a whole range of other styles and could learn, says Mr Patterson, that "if they vary styles from time to time, they can improve the climate". The last part of the workshop will be devoted to devising an action plan with each headteacher.
Then comes the follow-up: assignment of a business mentor and access to a forum of colleagues who have undergone training to discuss how they are getting on. Heads will also have access to information on the latest developments and management techniques, possibly through the Internet.
One of the aims of the programme is to ensure that all heads are completely literate in information and communication technology, although Mr Patterson said that heads' competence in this area need only be fit for the purpose of improving performance.
All the partners involved in developing the programme stress that the training will be suited to the head. "It's not a sheep-dip - it's tailored to the individual client's needs," said Mr Patterson, possibly betraying his firm's experience with training school principals in Victoria, Australia.