Headteachers' organisations have given a cautious welcome to Government plans to introduce three levels of qualifications for aspiring heads, a commitment trailed in Labour's election manifesto to ensure higher school standards.
But Peter Mullen, Catholic Church representative on Glasgow education committee and retired head of Holyrood Secondary, Scotland's largest school, warned qualifications would not necessarily produce high quality heads. "We'd be kidding ourselves," he said.
Mr Mullen advised city councillors to identify potential recruits early in their careers, offer them training on the job and "send them to schools where they get to learn something". The council should examine how it appointed heads as the system had remain unchanged for 20 years.
However, he called for "humane" ways to remove some heads who were not up to the job. "It's a problem and the reason why some schools are under-achieving, " Mr Mullen accepted.
He was responding to the Scottish Office consultation paper on qualifications for headteachers which spells out how a modular course, covering all aspects of managing and organising a school, would lead to higher pupil achievement. Courses are likely to be run by higher education institutions and would lead to a Certificate, Diploma and Masters in headship.
Scotland is to play "catch up" with England and Wales which begins headteacher training in September. It has taken almost two years to develop a structure south of the border, following consultations and pilots organised through the Teacher Training Agency. The Scottish Office is keen to match progress and wants comments on its proposals by the end of next month.
Rena Mitchell, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said primary heads were not opposed to the qualifications. "Because of the complexities of the job nowadays, training before people enter and in their early stages would be very welcome," she said.
Jim McNair, secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, welcomed the Scottish Office avoidance of compulsory qualifications. Scotland had less of a problem than England in recruiting heads, he believed. "Stepping up to headship is already tight in Scotland," he said. "There are a lot of stages and filtering that goes on." Nothing much could be gained, therefore, by making qualifications compulsory.
Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council, said Scotland was lagging behind England and that the council should be the body to control and monitor headteacher training as part of its professional development.
The Scottish Office suggests that local authorities could be forced to redirect funds to headship training through a specific grant, or a similar mechanism. Teachers may also have to contribute to the costs. It points out that the recent report on standards and quality in schools suggested leadership was unsatisfactory in 5 per cent of them (around 150) and that 20 per cent (some 600) had weaknesses..