Council debates Catholic super head

ONE super head to lead all four of the region’s Roman Catholic (RC) primary schools or a return to shared headships, are the two options which parents and staff are set to consider as part of a two month-long consultation.

Scottish Borders Council’s education executive, which met on Tuesday, had been due to discuss the strategic review into RC education in the region for just 15 minutes, but the debate ran on for the best part of an hour.

The review working group, set up last year, comprises councillors and education officials, as well as church and parent council representatives.

Four options were excluded – including the provision of one, large centrally-located RC primary – with a full consultation exercise approved on either a single head teacher or reverting to shared headships, with St Margaret’s in Galashiels and Halyrude in Peebles linked together with a similar arrangement at St Margaret’s in Hawick and St Joseph’s in Selkirk.

Temporary arrangements for the management of RC schools will continue until March, to allow for the consultation on the management models to be completed.

Other recommendations approved included developing a mentoring and coaching service to help RC teachers build a career path; head teachers to explore building strong links with local nursery providers and agreement given to the further development of links between Borders’ secondary schools and their local RC parishes.

The review was sparked by recurring problems over recruiting head teachers and concerns over performance.

Robert Fairburn, co-chairman of St Margaret’s Parent Council in Galashiels, welcomed the start of the consultation process and urged parents of all four schools to participate.

“I have a degree of sympathy for the review group because of the constraints they have been working under during the past year,” he told us.

“St Margaret’s in Galashiels is performing brilliantly at the moment under the current management structure, but we recognise there has to be a long-term solution for the leadership of the schools, as we want consistency and to avoid constant staff upheaval.

“A single head for four schools is unprecedented in the Borders and we would have to be assured that the proper levels of support would be in place to allow the schools to be managed on a day-to-day basis.

“But the council will be saving three head teacher salaries alone with this set-up, so the resources should be there to provide proper support for the person managing the schools over four different learning communities.

“It may well be that alternative options emerge during meetings with parents, which may find favour with the education executive and that is why we welcome the start of the consultation process.”

Executive member for education and chair of the Roman Catholic Education Strategic Review Group, Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels, BP), admits it is not an ideal situation.

“I am positive we can get a strong management team in place and get a common thread through these four schools so they can all help to sustain each other,” he told us.

“We have to get away from that temporary nature of these schools.

“What parents want is consistency – that is the only way we can develop these schools.”

The four schools have a combined total of only 162 pupils, with just 47 per cent being Catholic.

Quizzed over whether he thought there was still a place for such small faith schools, particular when they were experiencing a drop in pupil numbers, Mr Aitchison told us: “There is a fear out there because the rolls have been falling, so we need to find a way of improving the rolls.

“I have no personal agenda to close any school. That is not what I came into this job to do. I want to give them the opportunity to thrive.”

Paying tribute to the current head teachers of RC schools, he added: “What we need to do now is have a permanent solution to establish stability in our faith schools.”