Small primary schools should no longer expect to have their own dedicated headteacher, school leaders have been told. Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, said having single headteachers who shouldered all the responsibility was "no longer tenable or sustainable" and that strategic leaders should run groups of primary schools instead.
Mr Munby was due to make the comments to around 1,500 heads and deputies at the college's annual conference yesterday. The push to make more primary schools work in federations will be supported by government plans to pilot school business managers or "superbursars". They will help groups of small schools deal with financial matters which they might struggle with.
Mr Munby said that groupings of primaries wihin federations and similar systems would soon become standard, and could be a "possible lifeline" to villages as it would help them retain small schools.
He said "We should be moving towards strategic leaders or executive heads of collaboratives and federations not because it's sexy or modern but because it will make the leadership roles more manageable. It will lead to more realistic expectations of individuals."
Federations and school groupings have been promoted by the government and local authorities for some time, although they have been resisted in some areas.
Members of the National Association of Head Teachers, which has called for "one school, one head", claim it does not address the real problem: that teachers are reluctant to take on the ever-increasing responsibilities of headship.
Mick Brookes, the association's general secretary, said he agreed fully with the idea of small schools working together in clusters, but was wary of a "top-down approach" that meant small schools were dictated to by executive heads or even nearby secondary schools.
Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, will soon be piloting "superbursars" with six clusters of schools.
He said: "Federations are a great way to help smaller schools share the burden, to share facilities and staff and to work together to deliver what pupils and parents need."
Mr Balls is also to ask Alan Steer, headteacher of Seven Kings School and a behaviour expert, to examine how parents can support heads on discipline issues. The department is concerned that many parents do not care or do not believe their children misbehave. This could put teachers off becoming heads.