Argyll and Bute Council is to explore the establishment of joint headships of primary schools in the wake of a highly successful pilot project.
The move follows an in-depth evaluation of the pilot at Carradale and Drumlemble primaries, which have been sharing a head teacher since May 2010.
Today, the council agreed to looking into establishing similar arrangements in the future in other locations, provided various criteria are met.
The decision was welcomed by Argyll and Bute’s spokesperson for education and lifelong learning Councillor Ellen Morton, who said it could prove a major factor in helping to ensure that the area’s schools remain sustainable.
“In the Carradale and Drumlemble case, both sets of parents and parent councils were consulted on the proposal before it actually happened and the pilot went ahead with their approval.
“The resulting evaluation - along with the direct feedback we received from the parents, staff and pupils in both schools – was overwhelmingly positive and the arrangement will now become a permanent one.
“The obvious benefits of a joint headship are clear to everyone who has been involved in this pilot, and I am delighted that this is an option which we will now be able to consider, in appropriate circumstances, in the future.”
At present, a significant number of head teachers in Argyll and Bute’s smaller, more rural schools have a class teaching commitment, which can be as much as three and a half days each week.
The remaining time is used for managing the day to day running of the school and its ongoing development.
Councillor Morton said: “Even in a school with a relatively low pupil roll, managing the school and teaching a class can be extremely demanding as it is sometimes difficult to maintain an appropriate balance between the two roles.
“Matters of high importance cannot always be left until later and, as a result, teaching time can be disrupted when a head teacher has to deal with such issues.
“In addition, access to a head teacher’s time for meetings with parents, visitors and other staff can be limited by that teaching commitment, putting additional pressure on a head teacher to fit management duties into a limited period each week.”
The council believes that joint headships of two geographically close schools could have major benefits in such a situation.
These benefits would not necessarily include significant cost savings, as additional class teachers may be taken on – perhaps in promoted posts – to pick up the teaching requirements in both schools previously covered by the head teacher.
The feedback from those involved in Carradale and Drumlemble primaries has been extremely positive with teachers, parents and carers and the head teacher herself all indicating their satisfaction with the arrangement.
Among the most obvious benefits were having a full time class teacher who does not have to leave the class to deal with managerial issues, having access to the head teacher at any time of day and the opportunity for staff from each school to meet with their counterparts from the other school on an organised basis to share experiences and ideas and plan common activities for the benefit of both schools.
“The feedback from this pilot has been so overwhelmingly positive that it has encouraged us to consider that this might be a suitable arrangement in other locations,” Councillor Morton said.
“Any opportunity for a similar arrangement which arises in the future will be considered on its own merit, and will be assessed against a comprehensive list of criteria. We will of course involve parent councils at an early stage in any proposed joint headship.
“We want to ensure that we do all we can to keep our rural schools vibrant and sustainable, and this could well prove a significant way of enabling that to happen in particular circumstances.”
The council agreed today that the criteria for considering future joint headships in Argyll and Bute should be:
Suitable head teacher vacancies becoming available in schools
A maximum of two schools for a joint headship arrangement
Location of partner schools (member of an existing cluster) and within a reasonable drive time
The consideration of schools’ similarities and differences based on each school’s self-evaluation information, council evaluations and HMIE reports
Travel implications for a joint headship (costs, travel times etc)
The ability and experience of applicants to match the criteria set out in the Scottish Qualification for Headship
Consultation with both parent councils