Mrs Ryan is head of Shelton primary, one of 11 schools within a 12-mile radius of each other in the Long Stratton cluster in Norfolk. The cluster contains one middle school, three first schools, six primaries and a high school. "As a head coming into the cluster, it was a lifesaver," she admits.
The headteachers have set up a programme of shared Inset days every year, for which they pool money to buy training on a pro rata basis, mostly from the local education authority. It is one of the few chances they have to break through the professional isolation of working in their own little buildings and to discuss common problems.
"If you have a school of 10 or 20 staff, you have 10 or 20 different ideas, concerns, worries - and I'm the only full-time member of staff," says Mrs Ryan. Money is also pooled for national curriculum assessment and moderation. Each school takes in work to assess at a particular key stage and brings in an LEA moderator to verify its conclusions.
The children benefit from being in a cluster, too - there are regular sporting and cultural activities between the schools. With minimal public transport in rural Norfolk, minibuses must be hired for even the smallest excursions. And every trip is important when, as Heather Ryan puts it, "some families have no opportunities for getting out and about".