Leadership training needs more lessons in staying ahead
Peter Peacock said he will chair a newly-formed leadership board that will be a source of advice on education leadership and is expected to co-ordinate action and intelligence on the topic.
Also on the board will be John Mulgrew, chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland, and Judith McClure, convener of the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (Selmas) and head of St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh.
In a talk to a Selmas conference in Glasgow, Mr Peacock signalled changes in the way leadership training takes place. He wants to see greater flexibility in the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH) which he believes could halt falling numbers of applicants for top teaching jobs.
Mr Peacock told Selmas: "The way in which the SQH works is very academically based.
"It is very thorough and very exacting, but I also know from speaking to graduates that they find it difficult in terms of structure and access.
"We want to look at different ways of achieving the qualification. We could get more people who would find it difficult to do it within its current structure."
However, he stressed: "It is vital there is parity of esteem between the different routes to meet the standard. The process for evaluating the pilot will be as challenging and rigorous as that of the SQH."
Mr Peacock admitted fewer teachers are applying for headships: "Where you might have had 10 applications 10 years ago for a headship, now you get five."
However, he said the problem is not yet serious because applicants are still of a good standard.
He added: "I think there is a bit of a post-McCrone effect - why would you take a headship if you are only getting a few thousand more? I'm conscious of this issue because if we don't get this right, we are going to have problems in the long term."
He said changing the qualification is only part of the solution. "It will help, but it is a very complex question.
"What we need is to increase the number of students coming into the profession."
Mr Peacock also repeated the concern that around 20 per cent of Scottish schools show important weaknesses in leadership, including poor relations with staff, lack of focus on learning and teaching, and limited understanding of how to improve schools.
The minister promised failing heads would be removed if they could not make the grade. He warned: "I expect local authorities to take whatever action is necessary to rectify that problem."
His remarks were echoed by Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, who said: "We should really not be in a position in the 21st century where we are finding schools where children are being let down."
He urged early intervention from local authorities rather than waiting for inspection teams to come in.