Cost-cutting sees rural idea of shared headships move into central belt
One of Scotland's most densely-populated local authorities is introducing shared headships to cut costs and ensure the survival of smaller schools.
North Lanarkshire Council also believes the plan will spread good practice and increase educational opportunities for pupils, although the primary headteachers' union remains to be convinced.
Shared headships have become increasingly common in recent years, usually in rural authorities where it can be difficult to attract headteachers to remote schools.
North Lanarkshire is a largely urban area bordering Glasgow and only 12 out of 127 primary schools have fewer than 100 pupils.
But education officials say shared headships should be considered "to improve overall educational performance, to enhance the sustainability of small schools and to promote efficiency of the school".
Three sets of circumstances could lead to a shared headship, where:
- a large school and a small school "within a reasonable geographic proximity" are feeders for the same secondary;
- two small schools "within a reasonable geographic proximity" are feeders for the same secondary;
- there would be "benefit to the quality of the educational provision across a shared community".
The authority said it did not have a specific number of pupils in mind to define a small school.
A report to the authority's learning and leisure committee stated that there would be several advantages for teachers: small schools would have access to a wider range of specialisms; workload could be reduced and planning improved; and good practice and continuing professional development would be shared. It also argued that pupils would benefit, too, since they had fewer educational opportunities in small schools - in extra-curricular activities, for example - and a shared headship could "redress this disadvantage".
Running costs would also be reduced, and the case for not closing smaller schools would be strengthened, the report suggested.
The move towards shared headships will begin with a trial project involving the headteacher vacancies at the 62-pupil Calderbank Primary and Greengairs Primary (101 pupils), both in Airdrie.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said shared headships would never be needed in an ideal world, although he recognised it was a pragmatic response to recruitment difficulties in some authorities. He did not see, however, why sharing of resources and staff between two schools required a shared headship.
He insisted that any requirement for shared headships should be reviewed annually by authorities, to take into account changing circumstances. "There's no reason why it should be a one-way street," he said.