The Excellence in Headship programme supports head teachers who have been in post for two years or more to strengthen and expand their school leadership skills – with a strong focus on delivering excellence and equity for all children and young people in Scotland.


About Excellence in Headship

The Excellence in Headship programme provides a holistic approach to leadership professional learning and development for head teachers across Scotland.  The programme design maps to the GTCS Standard for Headship and references a Model of Professional Learning* to support self- evaluation and review. Excellence in Headship will:

  • provide an annual offer of leadership professional learning opportunities available in a range of formats to meet the needs of all head teachers.
  • take cognisance of the programme design and content of Into Headship, In Headship and Fellowship programmes.
  • include opportunities for collaborative learning, cross-system learning, coaching and mentoring, network development, issue exploration, international exchange and engagement with online learning.

The Excellence in Headship programme aims to:

  • increase awareness of, and engagement with, current thinking in relation to policy, literature and research
  • enhance the capacity of head teachers to be lead learners through a focus on pedagogical leadership
  • broaden networks and structures to enhance collegial and collaborative capacity within head teachers and across the system
  • provide opportunities to stretch and challenge professional curiosity and interest
  • facilitate authentic learning experiences to embed learning and practice to enhance understanding of organisational and system change and improvement
  • create opportunities to support individualised learning pathways
  • map learning opportunities to the GTCS Standard for Headship to support links with professional review and development and professional update.

Head teachers undertaking the programme will:

  • continue to develop a critical understanding of all aspects of leadership drawing from a broad range of relevant research and literature
  • be supported to enact leadership strategies within their own context
  • critically reflect on professional experience and use current practice as a learning tool to develop a culture of sustained professional growth for self and others
  • engage with others and work collaboratively to further develop understanding and share practice in leadership

(MPL, Reeves, J. and Fox, A. 2008 and Forde, C. 2011)

Programme themes

The Excellence in Headship programme offers an annual planned programme of leadership professional learning opportunities for head teachers in Scotland.  The programme is structured around six core themes in which all participants can engage. These include:

  • leadership and critical self-awareness (two-day residential induction programme).
  • leadership of learning (including international literature and links).
  • values based leadership (a specific focus initially through partnership arrangement with Columba 1400)
  • people and partners (to include working with community champions).
  • leading systems change (including international literature and links).
  • organisational effectiveness.

Induction to the programme is through a two-day residential session. Each individual residential session will cater for up to 50 participants with a focus on building collaborative networks, increasing leadership self-awareness and offers an opportunity for programme exploration.

Each of the core themes is supported by one and two-day participatory sessions, masterclasses, professional learning activities (available through the SCEL Framework) and a ‘palette’ of learning opportunities offering choice and flexibility of location.

  • Masterclasses feature a range of keynote speakers (universities and others) and inputs including international practice and exchange. These sessions are scheduled on a regional basis to allow, where possible, equity of opportunity for head teachers across Scotland. Up to 100 participants can, on average, attend these sessions.
  • Professional Learning Activities (PLAs) to supplement and contribute to the learning in individual sessions are available through the SCEL Framework for Educational Leadership. There is also a range of PLAs available independent of the programme.
  • A ‘palette’ of learning opportunities designed to offer breadth of learning includes:
    • opportunities for participants to meet to review, discuss and share good practice through appropriate case studies.
    • opportunities to participate in international/knowledge exchange,
    • opportunities to engage in a leadership exchange across public service in Scotland
    • opportunities to participate in ‘learning from experience’ sessions which allow head teachers to share experience and knowledge across themes and sectors
    • opportunities to take part in topic development groups to enable head teacher engagement in areas of current strategic interest which would include engagement with community education champions and online fora.

Following the induction residential, participants can choose from the range of learning themes designed to meet the needs of all head teachers. It is anticipated that participants would choose, in addition to the residential experience, a minimum of two additional professional learning opportunities during the academic year.  Choice of learning opportunity should be linked to participants’ professional review and development (PRD) and professional update discussions.  It is likely that learning will be within one or two themes in the first year – although there is no imposed limit to the level of engagement. Participants will normally attend the residential session before engaging in other opportunities.

The programme will evolve on an annual basis with the objective that it remains relevant throughout the professional career of a head teacher. The sections below give an indicative range of learning outcomes for each theme. These are designed to give you a guide as to what to expect under the headings of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.

Application for the first cohort of the Excellence in Headship programme is now closed.

Theme 1: (Induction) Leadership and critical self-awareness

The two-day residential session will be delivered through a combination of discussion, collaboration and specialist input and will cover the indicative outcomes set out below. Learning across these outcomes will also form part of ongoing reflection over the full programme. A vital element of the two-day induction will include collaborative learning processes to build knowledge and consider their use in practice. The design model will be influenced by the GTCS Standard for Headship and a Model of Professional Learning as defined above.

The indicative learning outcomes are framed around knowledge, skills and values.

Following the residential induction, participants will build on their experience to:


  • critically review appropriate research and literature to support current and future practice
  • appraise the effectiveness of leadership practice in the light of the principles of excellence and equity
  • identify and critically appraise the role and contribution of a head teacher within policy contexts at national, regional and local level
  • recognise and evaluate a range of leadership qualities, dispositions and attitudes which have a positive impact in a range of different organisational environments.


  • demonstrate increased awareness of self in a professional role and apply self-audit activities, (including 360, functional and critical reflection) to better lead an establishment
  • develop the capacity to network effectively in a peer-collaborative environment
  • apply collaborative enquiry skills to address ‘wicked’ issues.

Attitudes and values

  • have an enhanced commitment to the principles of excellence and equity in learning communities
  • recognise the importance of leadership development and collaborative practice and seeks ways to foster these within the school community and across the system.
Theme 2: Leadership of learning

Leadership of learning has eleven indicative learning outcomes covering knowledge, skills and values. There will be a range of delivery models to address these outcomes including a two-day event on the theme ‘using effective curriculum design to create excellence and equity for all’. This will be supplemented by up to four masterclass and palette sessions, as well as PLAs accessible via the Framework for Educational Leadership, to build and consolidate the learning covered and to ensure continued engagement and collaboration with the key themes.

Following engagement with the sessions, participants will build on their experience to:


  • analyse and critically review the contribution of strategic leadership in ensuring current curricular policy initiatives are embedded within the school and system. Examples include:
    • literacy and numeracy
    • science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
    • developing Scotland’s young workforce
    • digital learning strategy
  • identify the strategic role and function of the health and wellbeing indicators (GIRFEC) and deploy these in effecting school improvement
  • propose and appraise whole school strategies to ensure coherence in the learning experiences for pupils’ progression and pathways as they move across key points of transition – notably on how to lead at each stage of the broad general education (BGE) and into the senior phase
  • describe and evaluate the principles of effective pedagogy to strengthen the strategic role of head teachers as leaders of learning.


  • create a strategy to initiate and review innovation and leadership of curriculum design
  • effectively utilise data literacy to support effective learning and teaching
  • formulate and appraise strategies for self-evaluation at school/system level to support the outcomes of excellence, equity and social justice
  • utilise systematically the parents/carers’ voice in leading effective learning and teaching.

Attitudes and values

  • recognise and foster the role that parents and learners have in improving the learning community of the school
  • critically appraise the principles underpinning current curricular programmes and foster ways of ensuring excellence and equity for all.
Theme 3: Values based leadership (specific focus initially through a partnership arrangement with Columba 1400)

The Head Teacher Leadership Academy (HTLA) programme led by Columba 1400 will form the initial offer under this theme.  The HTLA covers the learning outcomes set out below.

Following engagement with the sessions, participants will build on their experience to:


  • increase awareness of self as a leader of change
  • reflect upon and create a unique vision and leadership presence for the school with the refinement and encouragement of committed peers


  • use leadership responsibility to shape the internal structure and external identity of the school
  • identify and evaluate sources of complication, obstruction and resistance and develop strategies for success

Attitudes and values

  • reaffirm a core vocation as an educator and role model for future generations
  • re-affirm commitment to a spirit of education that is never connected unless making an effective and measurable difference
Theme 4: People and partners – including working with community champions

Theme four has fifteen indicative learning outcomes which are broken down into two categories of ‘working internally within an organisation’ and ‘working to build capacity across and beyond an organisation’. These outcomes will be addressed through a combination of activities including 2 x two-day inputs – ‘engaging for school improvement’ and ‘leading change within a multi-service and partnership environment’. These will be supplemented by a range of masterclass, palette sessions and PLAs.

Following engagement with the sessions, participants will build on their experience to:

Knowledge (internal to school)

  • explain the significance of the culture of the school when seeking improvements, and critically appraise their role in shaping this
  • analyse the relationship between ‘leadership’ and ‘followership’ and evaluate their strategic role in building the capability for change and improvement across the school
  • review critically a range of models for supporting systemic teacher professional collaboration and collegiate working to effect school improvement.

Knowledge (external to school)

  • define and critically analyse the role, purpose and benefits of community partnership working
  • outline and evaluate the role and purpose of community/asset-based models of delivery which focus on improving outcomes for children, young people and families (including an emphasis on the role of community champions)
  • understand and foster ways of effective multi-service/agency working to improve educational and health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people
  • understand and utilise the most effective ways to support parents/carers play a full role as partners in learning with the school.

Skills (internal to school)

  • apply conflict resolution to effectively manage challenging situations
  • apply effective coaching techniques to improve staff performance and relationships
  • formulate and use a range of strategies to enhance teacher professional collaboration and collegiality to effect school improvement.

Skills (external to school)

  • identify and implement the opportunities offered by community planning partnerships (CPPs) to benefit the school community
  • use community-based outcomes systematically to enhance the role of the school and community in achieving improvements in learning
  • identify and apply skills of effective partnership working with other agencies to support effective preventative work which benefits children, young people and families
  • identify and apply the most effective strategies to maximise the role of parents/carers as effective partners in improving attainment and equity for all children and young people.

Attitudes and values (generic)

  • recognise the importance of multi-agency and community partnership working and foster ways of building collaborative practice to improve outcomes for children and young people
  • ensure a commitment to community-based outcomes as central to the ethos of the school
  • ensure that parents/carers feel they are full partners in leading learning for their children and young people.
Theme 5: Leading systems change

 Theme five has seven indicative learning outcomes. These will be addressed by one and two day participatory inputs with the titles of: ‘roles and responsibilities of a head teacher within a national and international context’, and ‘the head teacher as a system leader’. These inputs will focus on the roles and responsibilities of head teachers in the present Scottish governance context and consider how the role may change with a move towards, for example, increasing head teacher autonomy. There will also be an international knowledge exchange context integral to this theme. The input above will be supplemented by up to three masterclass/palette sessions and at least two PLAs.

Following engagement with the sessions, participants will build on their experience to:


  • critically evaluate different models of headship, nationally and internationally to learn from best practice and thus help prepare for the ongoing evolution of the role (with international knowledge exchange and links part of this learning outcome)
  • critically review ‘systems change’ methodology and its application to the school environment
  • describe and analyse educational decision-making and policy development in Scotland to help influence how strategic priorities are shaped and evolve
  • critically appraise present models of succession planning and capacity building of leaders in the Scottish system and analyse strategies to build systemic capacity across schools in Scotland.


  • appraise the changing role of head teachers and formulate ways in which they can build best practice
  • critically engage in ‘systems based’ scenario planning to help anticipate and prepare for potential organisational, financial and cultural changes to schools
  • contribute to the building of strategies for succession planning and leadership capacity in individual schools and across the system.

Attitudes and values

  • appreciate and seek to enhance the role of a head teacher as a systems leader in building capacity across schools in Scotland.
Theme 6: Organisational effectiveness

Theme six has four learning outcomes categorised under knowledge, skills and values which will be addressed through 3 x one day inputs. Titles are: ‘leading and managing staff within the context of teachers’ terms and conditions’; ‘leadership of finance and management of risk to support school improvement’, and ‘using effective project management techniques to improve school performance’. These inputs will be supplemented by PLAs. Cognisance will also be taken of management modules available as part of the Into Headship programme when planning for this theme.

Following engagement with the sessions, participants will build on their experience to:


  • demonstrate an understanding and application of employment law, discipline and grievance procedures, under the teachers’ terms and conditions as defined by the SNCT
  • demonstrate an understanding and application of school budget management processes at all levels (including Pupil Equity Funding)
  • demonstrate an understanding of effective management systems to utilise best practice in relation to the administration of key responsibilities including, inter alia, health & safety regulations, managing risk assessments and emergency response planning
  • demonstrate knowledge of effective project management systems and techniques to help ensure the smooth running of the school and release capacity for leading learning.


  • effectively utilise a budget to maximise pupil outcomes, including the use of virement opportunities, differentiation between capital and revenue resources and maximising economy of scale, taking cognisance, where appropriate, of pupil equity funding
  • critically review budget reports/returns and analyse corporate accounting procedures as they impact on school spend to report and plan effectively
  • critically apply best practice in the administration of key school management processes to improve the smooth running of the school to release leadership capacity which focuses on learning
  • critically apply an effective and tested project management approach to school priorities to monitor, evaluate and review school improvement priorities.

Attitudes and values

  • appreciate that effective management practices improve school efficiency and reduce staff stress
  • appreciate that effective management practices free teacher and senior leadership time to focus on learning and improving pupil outcomes.