Tse Hung-sum became principal of Tin Shui Wai Methodist College in August, prepared by a specialist Government-sponsored training programme earlier in the summer. 'The programme helped me get started in the post. It gave me a better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses,' he said. More than 170 new principals have participated in the mandatory programme, the Needs Assessment for Newly Appointed Principals, launched in June last year. Dr Allan Walker, project co-ordinator and associate director of the Centre for the Development of Educational Leadership at the Chinese University, said the three-year project used psychometric tests and personal discussions with assessors to help new principals. Thirty-six school principals serve as assessors. The training programme, funded by the Education Department, has been introduced in the wake of an influx of new principals over the past two years. Up to 20 per cent of schools are now run by first-time heads. Dr Walker said 91 primary school and 84 secondary school heads had so far taken part in the scheme, which runs over a month. Anissa Chan Wong Lai-kuen, one of the four lead assessors and principal of SKH Bishop Mok Sau Tseng Secondary School in Tai Po, said participants also had to devise a professional development plan in the first two years of their tenure, building on discussions with assessors and other new principals. But Mr Tse said it would be better if the duration of the programme were longer, with more time on in-depth discussions with assessors. 'It is a good idea for senior principals to serve as new heads' mentors but I know it may not be feasible because they are very busy with their own schools,' Mr Tse said. Until 1999, the Education Department provided new heads with a nine-day training course comprising briefings on personnel and budget management as well as leadership skills. Robin Cheung Man-biu, another lead assessor and principal of Tsung Tsin College in Tuen Mun, said the old courses were not comprehensive enough. Mr Cheung said that principals were becoming key players in school-based management reform, under which schools were given greater administrative and financial autonomy. 'We believe that the scheme has a wider implication in contributing to education reform and school-based management,' he said. Daniel Chan Wing-kwong, another lead assessor and head of Po Leung Kuk Luk Hing Too Primary School in Tseung Kwan O, said the Education Department was encouraging networks to be developed among head teachers. 'Principalship is a lonely job and it's a good idea to pull them together,' he said. 'We hope the new principals can form a critical mass for the successful implementation of reform.'