Numbers on NPQH course to drop from 4,000 to 2,000 because too many don't bother applying for the top job
The number of teachers on a compulsory training course for heads is to be halved, despite concerns about leadership shortages.
Entry rules for the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) are to be made tougher because fewer than half of its graduates have gone on to become heads. Last year, around 4,000 people were recruited to the scheme, which is run by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL), but that number will drop to between 2,000 and 2,500 next year.
Participants will also now have to prove they are 12 to 18 months from applying for a post. Unsuitable candidates will be filtered out during a two-day residential assessment at three NCSL centres.
Those who get through will then be able to tailor their courses according to their experience and interests, potentially reducing the time it will take them to finish.
Since 2004, all new headteachers have had to hold, or be working towards the NPQH, but by April 2009 they will have to pass it before they start.
The move comes as part of an overhaul of the qualification, which will also see the introduction of a mandatory placement in a school contrasting with their own. Potential headteachers could even be made to do a placement in a "children's services setting" such as a social services department.
A pilot scheme involving 150 teachers is due to start in April. The first public applications for the new-look qualification will start in May and June. The revamp, the first since 2001, has generally been welcomed by headteachers' associations.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is right that there should be an overhaul as literally dozens of things have changed since 2001.
"It is also right that there will be a higher expectation that people will move into headship, as it was never designed as another form of high-quality leadership training."
Toby Salt, strategic director of school leadership development at the NCSL, said the college had deliberately recruited more participants than there were headships available to "raise the quality of the senior leadership teams in general and give governors a choice".
"But the context has changed," he added. "We offer many more alternative courses now, and the strategy has changed."
However, the plan has been criticised by Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys, who warned it may backfire because of the growing shortage of heads. Around half of headteachers are now aged over 50. In 2004, 2,250 heads retired. That number is expected to rise to 3,500 next year.
A new study by Professor Howson, to be published next week by Policy Exchange, a right-of-centre think tank, will warn that schools also face difficulties finding middle managers. It will say they will come under "considerable strain" to recruit the 500 new heads of maths departments needed each year.
The number of schools readvertising such posts has risen over the last two years. The problem will be exacerbated by a combination of a shortage of maths teachers in the 1990s and today's high levels of retirement.
The revised NPQH, page 20
BE BOLD - OR ELSE, MINISTERS ARE WARNED
Ministers are not doing enough to prepare for a potential leadership crisis in schools, according to one of their senior officials. Dugald Sandeman, director of school resources at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said ministers needed to take bold decisions as they face a shortage of headteachers over the next 10 years.
Mr Sandeman told a fringe meeting at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham last week: "The Government has articulated a vision of a 21st-century school - it will have to be fairly energetic in saying what it thinks the leadership looks like, too. The Government needs to be brave about deciding what the vision is."
Local authorities in culturally diverse areas also need to give more opportunities to black and ethnic minority school leaders.
Mr Sandeman said it was "simply amazing" that some authorities were not already doing this. "As a recipe for setting up failures that seems like a great place to start," he said.