A leadership programme across 12 local authorities that offered 30 education managers "at the top of their game" the chance to grapple with a "wicked issue" has been deemed a success.
The practical character of the Strategic Leaders Development Programme, which will inform Scottish government plasnning, has been praised in an external evaluation by University of Edinburgh academic and former headteacher Daniel Murphy. Its local flexibility and ownership, use of small teams and the balance of individual and peer learning were in particular commended.
"These kinds of elements should feature as part of the set of opportunities available to senior school leaders," said Mr Murphy.
Another major success of the government-funded programme was that it tapped into the expertise of capable headteachers often "neglected" by their local authorities, said the report.
The programme had shown "local authorities can benefit from engaging headteachers in system-level leadership".
The report continued: "The SLDP has been a successful professional development programme, impacting positively, in intended and unintended ways, on individual professional development, service delivery and capacity development within participant local authorities."
One disappointment was the lack of joint working across the 12 local authorities involved. Nonetheless, the national character of the programme was deemed important. This gave it status, and the fact that authorities had to answer to an outside body meant the task could not "slip off the desk".
Ultimately, however, the programme may be a one-off. Other programmes aimed at meeting the leadership recommendations in Graham Donaldson's report on teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future, should perhaps be piloted ahead of any re-run of SLDP if they were "lined up and ready to go", suggested Mr Murphy.
"However, in the absence of a convincing alternative, and given the success of the first programme, it would be sensible for the Scottish government, as a contribution to the implementation of TSF, to fund an extension to a wider group of authorities, refining the process," he added.
SLDP was born when three individuals decided to "get up and do something" based upon the recommendations in the Donaldson report: Bruce Robertson (the Association of Directors of Education), John Christie (Virtual Staff College Scotland) and Margaret Alcorn (formerly of Education Scotland's National CPD Team).
Headteachers, local authority education managers and educational psychologists were put forward for the programme by local authorities.
Each council team had to identify a "wicked issue" to address; many chose an aspect of leadership framework development. Support was provided through a "sponsor" (a local authority senior officer), some form of coaching and a national project coordinator, Dan McGinty.
The SLDP began in December and formally ended in May.
One SLDP aim was to look at recommendation 50 of Teaching Scotland's Future, which calls for the creation of a virtual college of school leadership. But the evaluation report came to no firm conclusions after the online learning aspect "experienced both successes and failures". There was "enthusiasm" for online learning among participants but only 48 per cent were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the online support offered through Glow, the schools' intranet and in some cases local authority firewalls and connectivity issues caused further problems.
Original headline: Strategic leaders' programme gets `wicked' reaction