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One head happy to take two helms

North Yorkshire primaries are forming confederations and sharing leaders. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Who said that two heads are better than one? In North Yorkshire, primary schools are coming to the conclusion that, actually, one head is preferable to two.

And Christine Dowie should know. The head of 25-pupil Warthill primary, near York, has just taken on a second headship at Sand Hutton primary, five miles down the road.

The appointment is part of an experiment by North Yorkshire council to encourage schools to confederate. All 390 primaries are being asked to consider the idea.

Carolyn Bird, North Yorkshire's service development manager, said: "It is always difficult to attract heads to small schools because they have to do everything - teach all week and do all the paperwork at night."

A recent study found that 11 per cent of primaries had to look for a new head last year and that 37 per cent of those had to re-advertise when a suitable candidate could not be found.

So when the job at 80-pupil Sand Hutton became vacant, governors decided to turn to another school for a head, rather than recruit one of their own.

Mrs Dowie, who has been teaching for 30 years, was head at Warthill for the past nine years before taking on Sand Hutton at the start of this term.

"This kind of confederation is the way forward," she said.

"Increasingly heads are having to take on leadership tasks and in a small school this is incompatible with teaching. It is either one or the other. I now teach two lessons a week, instead of four days."

Governors of the two schools see the move as an exciting step forward for both primaries.

Each school pays half of her pound;42,237 salary. She spends alternate days in them, with half a day in each on Wednesdays. The schools keep their own budgets and have separate governing bodies.

Staff will jointly co-ordinate the curriculum and participate in professional development courses. For the children there will be joint enrichment days and pupils at Warthill, where there is no school hall, will travel to Sand Hutton to use the facilities.

Mrs Dowie has recruited additional staff to take on her teaching duties, and there are now two full-time and two part-time posts at Sand Hutton and three part-time teachers at Warthill.

This is the second confederation of its kind in North Yorkshire and at least three more are in the pipeline.

The arrangement is one of several new models of headship being adopted nationally, according to Jane Creasy, assistant director of research at the National College for School Leadership.

Others included single heads taking on responsibility for clusters of more than two schools, or two people sharing the headship of one school.

Ms Creasy said: "It is healthy to see different models for different local contexts. But I do not see federations of schools under a single head becoming that common. We would be interested in knowing more about how these schools organise themselves. Certainly in areas with recruitment problems it might be a viable alternative."

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