What does it take to run a good school?
"We live in an increasingly litigious society," depute heads were warned last week by Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannanshire. Mr Bloomer said school managers had to become more aware of the personnel and legal aspects of their job. But there was no "Big Boys' Book of Law" and law was always a matter of opinion rather than certainty.
He was speaking at the second annual deputes' conference organised by the Headteachers' Association of Scotland amid growing concern at moves in England to introduce a mandatory qualification for headteachers.
The association is unanimously opposed to compulsory qualifications, Jim McNair, its secretary, said. "The habit does not make the monk," Neil Logue of Angus's education department agreed.
"We are wary of the idea of having a particular certificate which will supposedly equip us for all the demands of headship," Alistair Johnston, the association's president, told The TESScotland. "A great deal of the preparation for being a headteacher is learnt on the way up. I received most of my training as a depute. So while a certificate may be adequate, it is not sufficient. "
Training experiences are mixed. Ian Bowman, depute head at Dunblane High, said being a school timetabler was regarded by Strathclyde, where he had spent much of his career, as essential for promotion. But Alan MacRae said he was responsible for health and safety at Kilsyth Academy "yet I have never had a day's health and safety training in my life".
The hit and miss nature of preparing senior school managers was acknowledged by Elspeth Banks, depute at Cumbernauld High. "My own preparation was in working along with an absolutely superb headteacher and with staff who were perhaps less inspirational but from whom I gained a great deal. It is not everybody, of course, who has the luck to be able to learn on the job in that way and a more structured approach is perhaps necessary which would give aspiring senior managers access to courses for leadership qualifications. But I don't believe that should be done by compulsion."
Existing courses came in for scathing criticism by Mr Bloomer. "A lot of what passes for staff development is, frankly, rubbish. There are too many soft-edged courses on 'raising awareness' or 'underlying principles'," he said. "You don't need to be steeped in law. You do need to know enough to spot warning signs and to know when to pick up the phone."
Mr Logue agreed that heads and deputes must become more familiar with grievance and disciplinary procedures, "because the union rep in your school most certainly will be". But Mr Logue, a former Educational Institute of Scotland rep, urged deputes to work with the unions on difficult staffing cases "because they can be agents for change and that should not be underestimated".
Mr Logue said: "Headteachers must begin to see themselves not just as curriculum managers but as people in charge of what are very large businesses which have to be managed creatively and which have their own dynamics in legal and personnel terms. Heads and senior managers operate in curricular settings, of course, and they must have these skills as well."
Criticisms of senior management training were dismissed by the chairman of the Scottish Association for Educational Management and Administration as overstated, inaccurate and out of date. But Douglas McCreath agreed that general courses were of little value and the best must have an in-school focus geared to the daily realities of school life.
The Certificate in Educational Management offered by St Andrew's College, where Mr McCreath is assistant principal, includes modules tailored to schools' own agendas.