Independent heads face mandatory master's

26th June 2015 at 01:00
Qualification will be a barrier to recruitment, school leaders say

All new independent school headteachers will have to hold the master's-level headship qualification planned by the government, it has emerged.

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced earlier this year that a master's qualification for school leaders would be introduced in August and become mandatory for new headteachers from 2018-19. But TESS can reveal that the government is now looking to include independent and grant-aided schools in the measure.

The move would address "leadership issues" in these settings, the government said.

However, independent schools have attacked the plans, saying that "significant numbers" of their headteachers came from England and overseas, and that the proposals would "reduce the field" they recruited from.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), said: "When independent schools recruit headteachers, they are recruiting at the highest level in a very competitive global market. Anything that is seen as a potential barrier for people coming from outside will by definition reduce the field."

Mr Edward rejected the suggestion that there were "leadership issues" in the sector.

"What problem is this trying to solve? There is not an issue here that needs to be resolved and there is certainly not an issue that requires additional legislation," he said. "It is the board of governors' responsibility to pick the best person to take their school forward.

"The idea that they would put someone substandard in place is counter-intuitive. If there is an issue, school governing boards will deal with it, and deal with it expediently."

Lost `autonomy'

Rod Grant, headteacher of the independent Clifton Hall School in Edinburgh, described the plan as "a disaster". He added: "This would take away the board of governors' autonomy to employ the person they think best suits their school. It's not the government's role to decide who runs an independent school - they're independent."

Private schools cast the net wide when looking for headteachers, especially if they were not delivering the Scottish curriculum, he said, adding: "Is the Scottish government really going to suggest that people take a qualification on the off chance they might one day get a headship in Scotland?"

Meanwhile, Scottish secondary headteachers have questioned whether enough staff will undergo the training to fill leadership posts in state schools by the time the qualification becomes mandatory in three years.

Recruitment of headteachers was "bad enough" and the qualification would only make that "more difficult", according to Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland. "While we admire the thought process around what's happening, I would be very surprised if, by the time this was coming in, there were the requisite number of people with the requisite number of qualifications," he said.

The price of ambition

Mr Cunningham also hit out at plans to make teachers pay for a third of the pound;3,000 qualification. "If you make something compulsory, there should not be a cost on top of that," he said. "Qualifications are well and good but they are not going to determine who will be a good headteacher.

"It is important headteachers are fully aware of current research about what makes a difference - that kind of professional development is important. But it's also about experience and character traits. How well do you relate to others? How do you handle a crisis? What are your values?"

The Scottish government is now examining whether to legally oblige all new headteachers - in state and private schools - to complete an element of the qualification before appointment, through an amendment to the Education (Scotland) Bill currently going through Parliament.

The qualification, called the Standard for Headship, will amount to a total of 60 master's-level credits and take a year to complete. It is being designed by the Scottish College for Educational Leadership.

In a letter to the Education and Culture Committee, the government argues that the move would ensure "all local authority schools have properly qualified headteachers" and would address "leadership issues within both the grant-aided and independent sectors".

The letter acknowledges that the Standard for Headship qualification could be seen as "a further disincentive" to take up headteacher posts. It also recognises that the SCIS might raise "some objections".

Do independents have `leadership issues'?

The Scottish government has claimed that a mandatory headship qualification would address "leadership issues" in the independent sector and grant-aided schools.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools has rejected the allegation, but there is some evidence to support it. Last year, Hamilton School, an independent in Aberdeen, was forced to close after inspectors said they were not confident that children were "safe and well cared for".

Later the same year, grant-aided Donaldson's School, Scotland's national school for the deaf in Linlithgow, was ordered by ministers to make urgent improvements.

Ken Muir (pictured), chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and a former chief inspector of education, recently told the Education and Culture Committee that while many independent schools were very good, there was "variation", as there was in the state sector.

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