Headteachers in small rural primaries may be forced to cover up sensitive issues like child abuse because of loyalty to their community, according to research presented to a British Council-sponsored international conference on rural and remote schools at Northern College, Aberdeen.
The case study carried out by the college of seven primaries on island and mainland communities in the north of Scotland unearthed previously unacknowledged pressures. One head told Margaret Gooday, the researcher: "There are enormous moral questions associated with community because loyalty to the community is seen as a value in itself."
Mrs Gooday found that the pressures on heads have increased since many rural communities expect teachers to become involved in local life. Dealing with the "management of closeness" was an issue highlighted by one head who stressed constant alertness to local sensitivities. Choosing people to accompany school trips could upset some parents. Heads said it was also important not to be too closely identified with tensions or factions.
The research confirms the crucial role schools play in rural communities and the fear of depopulation if the local school closes. The school is at the "hub of the community" with the demise in recent years of local shops and churches. Mrs Gooday notes: "The survival of the community is felt to depend on the survival of the school."
The school is also an important employer. Income generated by a cook, janitor, cleaner, secretary and teacher is of great value to the community, the research concludes.
Headteachers advise colleagues taking up rural appointments not to introduce change too quickly, to get to know the community and establish links with the parents and wider community. They should be aware of family folklore, religious beliefs and community frictions.
The relationship between rural primary schools and the communities that they serve is published by the Centre for Rural Education at Northern College, Aberdeen, at Pounds 10.