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Rusty headteachers need help

A "rust prevention" programme to overcome "stagnation" and isolation should be set up for headteachers who want to spend the rest of the rest of their careers in small primary schools. The suggestion comes from a research study funded by the Scottish Office.

Valerie Wilson, of the Government's educational research unit, and Joanna McPake, of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, looked at the problems of managing change in small primaries. They found that 44 per cent of heads questioned wanted to remain in that kind of school.

They say that heads develop a "pragmatic" management style and are able to prioritise demands. But there is stress inherent in combining the roles of head and class teacher. "They are more likely to derive their authority from their professional teaching expertise than their position in an organisational hierarchy."

One head said: "I see myself as team leader. Everybody has something to add, and that includes not only the teachers here but the peripatetics, janitor and the auxiliary."

The researchers favour a "time out" system for heads in stressful situations, particularly in one-teacher schools or where there are probationers on the staff. Single-teacher schools form 10 per cent of all small schools and they should get extra help, the researchers conclude.

A small school is defined as one with fewer than 120 pupils, 40 per cent of all primaries. The research began with a postal survey of all heads. This was followed by an examination of how 18 small schools managed such changes as the 5-14 guidelines, school development planning and appraisal. Informal discussions with other heads were the most widespread way of preparing to tackle these changes.

The research paper also proposes a Scottish centre of excellence for small schools, based in a teacher training institution, and recommends seeking Lottery money for staff development activities.

"Managing Change in Small Primary Schools" by Valerie Wilson and Joanna McPake, Interchange paper 54, Scottish Office Education and Industry Department.

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