A shift to a joint headship for two rural primary schools is being resisted by parents who say they need their own leaders during difficult times.
Auchtermuchty Primary School and Strathmiglo Primary School currently have their own headteachers, but Fife Council is recruiting one leader for both as the Strathmiglo head retires.
A group of parents wants the recruitment process scrapped, claiming that the village schools will suffer without their own dedicated heads.
Numerous joint headships exist in schools around Fife and Tayside.
Some, including Capshard and Torbain primary schools in Kirkcaldy which have more than 1,000 pupils between them, are much larger than the combined roll of 250 at Auchtermuchty and Strathmiglo, although most are smaller.
But Supporters of Auchtermuchty School says that the neighbouring schools – two and a half miles apart – are very different and need more leadership and resources not less.
And unlike Capshard and Torbain primary schools, they said, there would not be full-time depute headteachers at both school.
Parents have the backing of three local MSPs, and a teaching union has warned of “considerable” workload implications for staff at the schools.
Allison Morton, who has two children at the school, is a member of Supporters of Auchtermuchty School and chairwoman of the school’s parent council.
This is an incredibly difficult time for many families and, consequently, is a time when we need increased leadership and resources.”
Allison Morton, parents leader
She said: “Strathmiglo and Auchtermuchty Primary Schools are different schools with very different challenges and a headteacher must be on site to address the particular situations of each school. A shared role will make this significantly more difficult.
“We feel the decision has been based on convenience and economics for the council, rather than the needs of our schools and children.
“Indeed, we have asked to see the educational rationale behind this decision – this has not been provided.
“The school in Auchtermuchty is a critical part of our town’s community and at a time when so many families are struggling, it provides a very real support for the community beyond the school gates too.
“This is an incredibly difficult time for many families and, consequently, is a time when we need increased leadership and resources.”
North East Fife Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: “These two schools deserve two head teachers as they are two distinct communities with different needs and challenges.
“A joint head teacher for the two schools would be a significant challenge for any one person, which may be why the council have been unable to attract a suitable candidate for the position.”
Mid Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Liz Smith said no convincing argument had been made for the benefits of a shared headship for the schools, while Labour MSP Claire Baker said the council must heed the strong case being made by parents.
Wilma Pirie, president of the Fife branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the union was still to be convinced of the educational rationale for joint headships.
She said: “The EIS believes that the workload implications for our members have the potential to be considerable; for the head teacher of more than one school, for the promoted members of staff who are in the school when the head is in the other school.
“Indeed sometimes these are PTs (principal teachers) and not deputes.”
The council’s head of education and children’s services Angela Logue described high quality leadership in schools and communities as key to improving outcomes for children and young people.
She said: “Currently we have 28 headteachers working effectively across two schools or early learning centres in Fife.
These joint leadership arrangements are supporting high levels of collaboration, leading to improvements in children’s learning experiences.”
Angela Logue, Fife Council
“These joint leadership arrangements are supporting high levels of collaboration, leading to improvements in children’s learning experiences.
“We have discussed with parent councils the decision to establish a shared leadership structure across Strathmiglo and Auchtermuchty primary schools.
“Parents will continue to be involved in the process as it moves forward.
“We’re happy to meet with any parents to allay any concerns they may have.”
Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland general secretary
This sort of arrangement is not uncommon. There are at least 200 schools, maybe 300 have this arrangement across Scotland.
Each situation of a joint headship needs to be considered on its own merits. It will be suitable on some occasions and not suitable on others. Perhaps the distance between schools is very lengthy, you could be talking 10, 20 miles, and obviously that would be a significant travel time for the school leader between the two.
There are lots with smaller schools where you have two schools with roughly 30 kids each and you have ones where there may be 450 pupils and 30 pupils. There’s a real range of practise and experience across the country.
We don’t have any in principle objection to joint headships. If there are no other promoted roles within those schools that would raise a little bit of concern.
There would need to be arrangements in place for if a situation arose and the headteacher was in the other establishment or needed to be at training or so on.