The training course at the heart of the new induction programme for headteachers has received an enthusiastic welcome from its customers.
The New Visions programme from the National College for School Leadership has an 87 per cent approval rating, a response described as "astounding" in an independent evaluation.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," Richard Vasey, head of the Long Eaton school in Nottingham, told The TES. "New Visions put me in with colleagues in very similar positions, people who were grappling with the same problems."
The headteacher induction programme replaced Headlamp as the recommended training route for newly-qualified heads in September. At the centre of the programme is New Visions, a course which brings together 15 heads to work with a NCSL facilitator and a consultant head.
A two-day residential course is followed by eight further one-day sessions over 12 months. The cost is pound;1,500.
There are four modules to be worked through, and the emphasis is on a shared approach to practical issues, something that was welcomed by the heads The TES interviewed.
"New Visions was the best decision I ever made," said Kevin McCabe, head of Birmingham's Paget primary. Mr McCabe had been at Paget for five weeks when an inspection put the school in special measures. He delayed his own professional development.
"I had to make sure that I had a school to be professionally developed in," Mr McCabe said.
Once the school came out of the failing category he looked at his own needs.
"The people on New Visions - they were all enthusiastic, open-thinking and keen to make a difference. The course made me realise that leadership is about your values. That's quite scary."
Primary and secondary heads work together in the programme, which worried some of them. But Mr Vasey found that heads were discussing the kind of leadership and practical problems that face any school.
"We didn't get bogged down in primary or secondary issues," he said.
The group discussions put some people off at first as they thought they would involve "a lot of navel-gazing".
"I was concerned about it being lots of hot air and people sitting around," said Gill Sparrow of Birmingham's Hillstone primary. "That view changed considerably.
"We had time to share the things that keep you awake at night. I took back the idea of challenging people's thinking. One person would talk and the others had to listen for five minutes before they responded. Teaching and learning was professionally addressed. Back at school I used the techniques to tease out the fact that we weren't happy with our curriculum. We are now in the middle of rewriting it."
All three heads were emphatic about the difference between New Visions and the compulsory National Qualification for School Leadership.
"On NPQH we were treated as students," said Kevin McCabe. "The people who run it seem to be trying to make you into a head in their image. They were trying to teach us something where the New Visions programme was helping us to learn."
Mr Vasey said: "NPQH was much more content-led. New Visions has enough flexibility for us to bring our own issues to the table."
This emphasis on the flexibility and process-focused nature of the new course was echoed in the evaluation. Meanwhile 78 per cent said that "sharing problems with others" was one of the most helpful aspects of the programme.
Tony Bush and Derek Glover, the authors, presented their initial findings at the British Education Leadership and Management Association conference in October. The report will be published later this year, but researchers found that heads valued the sense of personal confidence they gained from sharing experiences with other new heads.
"There was an astoundingly high percentage of positive comments," Mr Bush told the conference.
The only part of the programme to be awarded low marks was the online support.
Mr Vasey was more than happy to recommend the course to other newly-appointed heads - with one caveat. "It definitely depends on the quality of the facilitator and the associate heads who deliver the programme. There could be a temptation to increase the group sizes. If you did that you would lose quality."
New heads have until the end of this month to sign up for the 2004 programme. Most heads will be able to use in-service training funding to pay the pound;1,500 fee. For details see www.ncsl.org.uknewvisions or ring the NCSL on 0870 001 1155