THE decision by the local education authority to seek a single headteacher for the region’s four Roman Catholic primary schools, including St Joseph’s in Selkirk, has been welcomed.
Pupil rolls at the four schools had been falling because they were not performing well enough, due to not having the right permanent leadership in place.
Scottish Borders Council had authorised an extensive review to be carried out, involving consultations with parents, staff, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the wider Catholic community.
The result was the decision this week, by the new education committee, to endorse a recommendation to appoint a single ‘super’ headteacher, backed up by an implementation board to support and monitor the new arrangements over the first year of operation.
A report reviewing the first 12 months will also be brought back to the education committee in due course.
St Joseph’s currently has a roll of 19 pupils, but that is expected to increase to 23 when the new school year begins in August.
Local Scottish Borders councillor Gordon Edgar (Selkirkshire, Ind), who sits on the education committee, believes the decision is the right move, but says success depends on the right person being appointed.
He said: “This is a totally new position, created to attract a top-quality person. The calibre of the person appointed will determine whether this plan succeeds or fails.
“It was made clear this is a permanent post, not a pilot, because it would just make it more difficult to recruit the right person if the job was only going to last for possibly 12 months.”
Mr Edgar believes there is still a place for small single faith schools like St Joseph’s.
“The school does make a positive contribution to the community and we are looking for this to be a success and every effort will be made to achieve that aim”, he said.
Committee chairman Councillor Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels & District, BP) had told Tuesday’s education committee meeting the successful applicant for the job would face a challenging, but not monumental, task.
“We must ensure there is permanence of management in these schools for the future,” he added.
And on the Roman Catholic Church’s view that the single headteacher plan be implemented on a pilot basis initially, Mr Aitchison made it clear this was not going to be the case: “This is not a pilot project, we are looking at permanence.”
Councillor Catriona Bhatia (Tweeddale West, LD) said the most important factor had to be the quality of education delivered to children.
And she added that the “elephant in the room” was whether there was still a need for such single faith schools in the 21st century.
She warned: “I think this model is good, but it will have to deliver excellent education and if that can’t be delivered, I think we will have to bite the bullet when it comes to discussing this issue again.
“The next time, any review would have to have a much wider remit and perhaps have to take some harder decisions.”
In a statement, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland told TheWeePaper that while it recognised the challenges faced by the council, the proposed strategy was “far from ideal” and will require close monitoring.