The latest school improvement scheme has hit difficulties over how headteachers should be paid for advising other heads.
Initially a Department for Education and Skills spokesman told The TES that payments for school improvement partners should go to their school.
While the DfES would like most of the partners to be headteachers, the department has issued no official guidance on how such heads should be paid.
"We expect the headteacher's school to reallocate some of the headteacher's duties to colleagues, and make appropriate reallocations for other staff affected," said a DfES spokesman.
But some heads say the scheme is starved of cash. A payment regime focused on covering the absent head could leave heads doing the work for nothing.
"Becoming a partner involves a tremendous amount of extra work. If heads aren't going to be rewarded for that work then few will want to step forward to do the job," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
School improvement partners are seen as an essential part of the new lighter-touch process of inspection and accountability.
A partner acts as a critical friend to a school, helping them to identify strengths and weaknesses. Most should have experience of running a school, with 75 per cent expected to be serving or recently serving heads. Last year there was a pilot scheme and in September the first secondaries in 27 local authorities had partners assigned to them. All secondaries and a fifth of primaries should have partners by September 2006. The remaining primaries will get theirs by September 2007.
Partner heads are expected to spend between 10 and 20 days a year on their duties. Funding for the scheme has been delegated to local authorities and there are wide variations in the payments for the work. Essex is paying a flat fee of pound;2,000, with an additional pound;175 per day for the training. Other authorities pay a daily rate, with heads getting between pound;350 and pound;700 a day.
Marcia Twelftree, head of Charters school in Ascot, was one of the first improvement partners to be appointed in her area. She has criticised the DfES's failure to issue clear guidance.
"These questions were not made clear in the initial recruitment process, or during the training," she said. With her governors Ms Twelftree worked out a solution.
"Our feeling is that the school benefits from the experience. We tried to identify whether the time was spent in school time or in my own time - the rough split was one third on school time and two-thirds in my own. The governing body decided to keep two thirds of the money and pay me one third."
Ms Twelftree was happy with that arrangement, but she pointed out that it was only possible because her local authority was paying well over the minimum fee. "pound;350 is not enough," she said.
The DfES acknowledged that heads could be paid for the work and that it was for "an employer to settle arrangements under which the employee undertakes paid work for a third party".
A spokesman said new guidance was not always the answer but "for the avoidance of doubt" the next batch of letters to LEAs would cover the issue.
Dr Dunford says some heads and governors will face difficulties. The ASCL published its own guidance this week, suggesting that schools follow the Charters lead by splitting payments between school and head.
ASCL recommends that governing bodies clearly document any agreement, with one option being that heads could receive their reward for the extra work in the form of extra points on their salary scale.
"Only if all the work takes place out of normal working hours should the member expect to receive the full remuneration himherself," say the ASCL.
"Some authorities are making payments direct to heads; it's appropriate that the head is being reimbursed, but they have to be seen to be be doing these things with propriety," said John Dunford.
But he did not accept that local authorities could not afford to pay higher rates. "The school improvement partner process takes the place of the frequently ineffective link adviser role. Schools don't need Sips and link advisers. Local authorities should save money by not employing link advisers."