Seven primary schools on Arran could be left under the charge of just two headteachers, if North Ayrshire Council has its way.
Other local authorities, including South Ayrshire, Scottish Borders and Shetland, have experimented with shared headships, but this is the most far-reaching move to date which heads' leaders fear is "a step too far".
The combined salaries of the seven existing heads on Arran is pound;321,594 which, together with falling rolls, has led the council to a radical rethink over the management of the primaries. It has settled on a model that will see two heads running Brodick, Corrie, Kilmory, Lamlash, Pirnmill, Shiskine and Whiting Bay primaries. No decision has yet been made on how the schools would be shared out.
The Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, which represents primary heads, reacted by saying it was not opposed to joint headships in principle. But responsibility for three or four schools was too much, argued general secretary Greg Dempster.
The heads would only be capable of "overseeing" them, not leading them, he said. "We do not think it would be possible to be properly engaged with, and to lead, development in four schools which have considerable travelling distances between them. It is a step too far."
Arran is similar in size to mainland North Ayrshire. Some of the schools are 15 minutes apart by car, but to travel between others would take closer to 50 minutes.
The council suggests its plans are preferable to school closures.
Carol Kirk, director of education in North Ayrshire, said: "With the reducing pupil population on Arran, it is imperative to examine the potential for improving efficiency in delivering a high-quality education and safeguarding primary schools in their communities. The benefits of a model of shared headship will be to provide sustainability for schools and ensure consistency."
Rolls at the seven primaries range from eight pupils at Corrie to 68 at Whiting Bay. Over the past six years, the primary school roll on the island has dropped by 25 per cent, from 358 in 2004-05 to an expected 276 in 2010-11.
All seven Arran heads were due to retire over the next three to five years, according to the council. The headteacher of Brodick Primary led the way, retiring in April this year.
However, in order to speed up the process, the council is willing to offer the heads early retirement packages so the plan can be in place as early as August 2011.
Other models considered, but rejected, by the council included having all seven schools run by one head or placing them under the control of three headteachers.
Emma Seith firstname.lastname@example.org.