PLANS to cut up to 50 head teacher posts in primary schools across the Highlands have been slammed by parents.
Furious parents claim the proposals to create more so-called “cluster schools” – where one head teacher takes charge of several primaries – will be detrimental to their children’s education.
But council officials insist the model already works well elsewhere in the north, and argue it would save thousands on salaries while also addressing the ongoing recruitment problem.
The proposals have emerged just a week after an education summit to tackle the teaching recruitment crisis in the north of Scotland, which was attended by the eight local authorities and Education Secretary Angela Constance.
Currently, there are 19 vacancies for head teachers and officials claim they have struggled to attract “quality applications”.
There are 169 head teacher posts at Highland schools across 177 primaries and 29 secondary schools.
At the moment, 66 primaries and two secondaries are grouped into 34 clusters.
But under the plans to add more clusters, the number of head teacher posts could be cut to between 120 and 140.
Schools of fewer than 100 pupils would be grouped together geographically, with head teachers not being required to teach.
Director of care and learning Bill Alexander also suggests in a report to the council’s education, children and adult services committee that a “business manager” could be appointed to take on administration duties at schools to free up head teachers’ time.
But Jason Hasson, chairman of Tarradale Primary School’s parent council in Muir of Ord, said he had “huge concerns” about the proposals, and claimed they would be “detrimental” to the standard of education.
He said that head teachers took overall responsibility for the schools beyond the classroom, including maintenance and other issues, which could put “extra pressures” on staff.
Mr Hasson has also fought against other money saving proposals for education, including merging schools and shortening the school day.
He said: “This is a dangerous route to go down. It’s yet again an example of the council taking steps which will be detrimental to the education of our children.”
Area branch secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Bob Colman, said reducing the number of schools with their head teachers was “unsatisfactory” but that the union had to be “pragmatic” about the situation.
He said: “The EIS has always held the view that schools should have a head teacher but the legislation in place no longer guarantees that.
“We have to be pragmatic and the union will want continued involvement in the process.”
Mr Colman said the biggest concern among head teachers was the amount of bureaucracy, adding that the union would support the creation of a separate post to handle these duties.
Education committee chairman Drew Millar defended the plans and said the the authority’s existing clusters had “generally been successful”.
He acknowledged that there would be some concern among parents but said the proposals were the best way to attract new head teachers.
He also said that while there will be a likely budget saving with fewer head teachers, it was not the primary aim.
He said: “It’s more about looking after the pupils and doing the best we can for our staff rather than a budget saving. Children must come first.”
And Councillor Ken Gowans, who is also on the committee, assured parents there would be a consultation before any changes were made.
He said: “It’s going to need a huge amount of consultation with teachers and it has to be put in front of every parent council before anything happens.
“One size simply does not fit all and we will be affording it as much scrutiny as possible.
“This has the potential to change the management of our schools fundamentally.”
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