With Glasgow City Council deciding to cut up to 450 teachers over three years, and the reductions already underway, officials have now admitted that 45 primary schools face having only the headteacher not class-committed during the week.

Teachers and parents have raised major concerns over these arrangements, warning that they threaten the quality of education on offer, the amount of support available to pupils and families, and even the safety of children in schools.

Here, education writer James McEnaney explains a few of the reasons why schools need teachers who don’t spend their whole week teaching.

The Herald has also exclusively revealed the list of 45 affected primary schools.

Responding to incidents and emergencies

Anyone who has been to primary school, sent a child to primary school, or is aware of the existence of primary schools, knows that things rarely, if ever, go entirely to plan. An inevitable consequence of working with large groups of young children is that things happen – and when they do, schools need to be able to respond.

Perhaps it’s a child taking unwell, or becoming distressed, or lashing out at a peer, or doing any number of other things that mean a class teacher, with dozens of other children in front of them, needs assistance. In these circumstances, most of us would expect a headteacher or some other senior member of staff to be available to either take over the class or, as if often the case, remove the individual child from the environment and try to work out how best to help them.

That will no longer be the case in some Glasgow schools, and nobody seems to know exactly how that is supposed to work.


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Covering absences

What happens if a teacher calls in sick at short notice? You might imagine that there is an army of supply teachers ready to step in but, in reality, senior staff often cover absences in the first instance. Given the state of education budgets that probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s also pretty inevitable in primary schools: in a high school, a French teacher with a free period can cover for the absent chemistry teacher, but primary schools aren’t arranged in the same sort of way so rarely if ever have that kind of slack. Teachers have warned that primary school classes may have to be sent home where it is not possible for a school to accommodate a short-notice absence.


Additional support and school partnerships

Many people don’t realise this (and that includes some of the people in charge of education) but headteachers and other members of senior management have, over the years, increasingly found themselves delivering one-to-one support to pupils with additional support needs. However, even where that is not the case, schools have to identify pupils who need help, arrange assessments and meetings, and secure the support that their young people require. The Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland (AHDS) has already warned that that Glasgow’s staffing cuts “will compromise [senior staff members’] ability to attend multi-agency meetings and will lengthen the time required to get supports in place.”

School partnerships, such as those used to enhance the curriculum or provide extra-curricular activities, also require an investment of time from school leadership – and once again, this is an area where parents are being warned that provision will be harmed.


Being available for parents

One of the major concerns of the Glasgow City Parents Group is that the staffing cuts being imposed on primary schools will make it much, much harder for parents and carers to contact headteachers and engage with their child’s school. The group’s chair, Leanne McGuire, told The Herald that people “should always be able to reach out to their child’s headteacher with concerns, but this becomes nearly impossible when the headteacher is handling everything else across the school.” She added that is worries the cuts will “lead to strained relationships, with headteachers being unavailable and families feeling unsupported, through no fault of the teachers.”



None of this means that headteachers and other senior staff must, or even should, spend all of their time out of class, and there are primary schools in Scotland small enough that management arrangements are different – but forcing Glasgow schools to copy with having only one person not in class creates significant problems for schools, families and pupils.