Lessons in leadership

20th March 2015 at 00:00

Work is well under way on the design of a new national headship programme. The Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL), is working with employers, universities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to lead development of the first part, titled Into Headship.

Aimed at those who may become headteachers in the next three years, it will be followed - once appointment to headship has been secured - by a second programme, Extended Induction. The recent announcement by first minister Nicola Sturgeon that Into Headship will be a mandatory qualification for new headteachers from 2018-19 sharpens the focus of this work.

What should a headship preparation programme contain? How committed are we to supporting headteachers in being lead learners who develop staff to ensure that excellent learning and teaching is the norm for all young people?

This doesn't happen by chance: it requires commitment in schools and local authorities to teachers' professional learning and to building leadership capacity. Many headteachers wrestle with this aspiration in the face of increasing teaching commitments and responsibility for what seems like an ever-growing list of management tasks. So how do we support aspiring headteachers?

For me, a number of aspects are crucial in headship preparation. Perhaps most important is resilience - recognising that early headship brings unique challenges, which can be dealt with without batting an eyelid after a few years in post. There needs to be explicit focus on building staff capacity and working across the community, with an emphasis on meeting learners' needs.

Recognising that dual role of leading learning and leading an organisation, we must also ensure that aspiring headteachers are fully prepared for this and are knowledgeable about national legislation and local authority processes in, for example, human resources, finance and law. If we help prospective headteachers to prepare effectively, we won't be expecting them to learn on the job or, worse, only when they have to put out a metaphorical fire. It's crucial that this knowledge is used to support headteachers in leading learning, not as an end in itself.

In the longer term, it is vital that we support aspiring leaders systematically from the start of their careers. This isn't about hothousing prospective headteachers but taking professional learning seriously from the outset, starting with pedagogical leadership, which is demonstrated by consistent classroom practice.

High-performing countries support leadership development right from the start of a teacher's career, not simply in preparation for senior leadership roles. That's where we need to be in Scotland, and the SCEL is already playing a central role in delivering this aspiration.

Gillian Hamilton is chief executive of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership

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