Providing better support and leadership training for teachers throughout their careers will reduce the attainment gap in Scottish schools, according to the head of the new Scottish College for Educational Leadership.
Gillian Hamilton, who will be taking up her post as the SCEL's first chief executive on Monday, told TESS that the role was an "enormous challenge" but vowed to improve access to training for all teachers, even in remote parts of the country.
While she does not expect an immediate impact on closing the attainment gap between different groups of pupils, she said this was the long-term goal. "I believe professional learning and leadership development is what makes a difference," she added.
The creation of the SCEL was confirmed by education secretary Michael Russell last year. The sector had long called for a leadership college to provide training opportunities and access to research.
Ms Hamilton explained that her initial priorities would be to get the organisation up and running, and to "get out there" to engage with stakeholders and teachers at all career levels.
She said that a small office had now been established in Glasgow and that regional networks where teachers could attend events and gain support would be set up around Scotland.
Applications for the board of the new college have closed; other posts will soon be advertised.
The pilot of a fellowship programme is already under way, with the initial group of headteachers from across Scotland engaging with policymakers and academics at a national level. And an SCEL strategic group on the route to headship will publish its report later this year.
Ms Hamilton said that the role of headteachers had changed significantly and the SCEL would have to respond to that challenge. She added that school leaders were now expected to work closely with the whole community, while new initiatives, such as shared headships, had changed the nature of the job.
"There is a drive to working much more collaboratively in schools, to working with other professions and working much smarter with your local community," she said. "There is an expectation that that is part of the role of a headteacher."
But the college would not just support headteachers and those on the cusp of school leadership, she explained. It was important to recognise that teachers "are engaged in leadership activity much earlier in their careers", ranging from pedagogical leadership with their colleagues to middle-management roles.
The SCEL would aim to offer support to staff at all stages, Ms Hamilton said. The college would also use new technology and social networking to interact "with a new generation of teachers [who connect] with each other in new ways".
"SCEL needs to be engaging with that group, supporting them and working with them. We have already had approaches from some teachers [asking if we can] work together on that."
Prior to her appointment at the SCEL, Ms Hamilton, who is a former primary headteacher, was head of educational services at the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). There, she had significant responsibilities for the development of Professional Update and led the team that set out the new professional standards.
Tony Finn, chair of the SCEL board, last month said he was delighted to welcome Ms Hamilton, who had "already earned a national reputation for the quality of her work with GTCS".
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said supporting Ms Hamilton in her role was a "no-brainer". "We do want to see headteachers and others in the profession better prepared for the kind of leadership that is needed in the kind of society we have now." He added that being a headteacher had become "one of the most difficult jobs out there".