The shortage of primary headteachers will not be exacerbated by the introduction of a mandatory headship qualification, the Scottish College for Educational Leadership has vowed.
The SCEL has led the design of the Into Headship qualification, which will become mandatory in 2018-19.
The first cohort to embark on the new qualification will start this month, with 119 aspiring school leaders signed up for the year-long course, evenly split between primary and secondary.
But the qualification has been criticised for adding another barrier to headteacher recruitment, particularly in the primary sector, with candidates having to pay £1,000 towards its cost.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders’ body AHDS, said that although the qualification might prepare heads better, the state of headteacher recruitment was currently “not a pretty picture”. Given “the burden of study” and cost, the situation would probably worsen, he added.
“If we are serious about enhancing the quality of school leadership, then we need to take hurdles away, not add more,” he said. “We need action to ensure there are clear financial incentives in place to encourage teachers to aspire to headship.”
Mr Dempster added: “There are around 350 secondaries and 2,100 primaries in Scotland, so while having a 50:50 split the first year might make sense, those numbers are going to have to change drastically in the years to come to create a decent pool of candidates.”
Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives show that 51 primary schools recorded headteacher vacancies in June, compared with only seven secondary schools.
The college’s chief executive Gillian Hamilton admitted that if the new headship qualification led to more unfilled posts, the SCEL would not have done its job properly.
She said: “My focus is on getting the qualification right so that it drives up the number of people putting themselves forward for headship, not the other way round. If we get the programme right and it really meets the needs of aspiring headteachers, it should be a case of, ‘if you want to be a headteacher, why on earth would you not want to do this programme?’ ”
Ms Hamilton insisted she had not picked up on “enormous resentment” about costs from this year’s Into Headship cohort, but said the SCEL would monitor any impact on uptake.
The former primary headteacher and head of educational services at the General Teaching Council for Scotland added that an extensive equalities impact assessment had been carried out to ensure that no one was disadvantaged by recruitment to the programme, or by the programme’s design.
“We are working at a time when there is less money available for professional learning and it’s becoming more the norm to fund some of your own development,” she said.
The eight universities currently providing initial teacher education programmes will offer the Into Headship qualification, although the University of the West of Scotland will not do so until next year. The programme offered by the University of Aberdeen will be undertaken largely online and is aimed at candidates in remote and rural areas.
Everyone from deputies to classroom teachers could potentially take the course, Ms Hamilton said. “In small rural schools, primary heads can be appointed from a classroom teacher post and we need to make sure those teachers are as prepared for headship as a secondary deputy in a large school.”
She added: “It is really important that we are not just recruiting people to the programme who might want to be headteachers, but that we have an idea of how cohorts coming through will fit into the workforce.”
The SCEL is aiming to create a suite of leadership qualifications that together amount to a master’s qualification. These comprise Middle Leadership Development, Into Headship and Extended Induction.
‘Leading learning in the classroom’
The Scottish College for Educational Leadership is to begin providing leadership opportunities for all teachers, with the launch of a website at the Scottish Learning Festival on 23 September.
SCEL chief executive Gillian Hamilton, pictured, says: “If we are really serious about building leadership capacity in the system…it’s important that teachers at all levels see the SCEL as being for them.”
She believes that teacher leadership is about high-quality learning and teaching; using research and enquiry to inform practice; and working collaboratively with colleagues.
“We are not talking about new teachers taking on formal leadership roles, but about leading learning in the classroom,” she says.
The Framework for Educational Leadership website will give access to professional learning activities designed by SCEL and by providers endorsed by the body.
“This piece of work will never be finished; it will constantly grow and develop as new resources are added,” Ms Hamilton says.