Tessa Fenoughty
Tessa Fenoughty

A DALE headteacher has questioned the county council’s policy towards rural schools, saying that sharing leadership between sites may not be best for the children.

As she prepares to leave her post, Butterknowle Primary School’s headteacher Tessa Fenoughty is calling for a “conversation” about leadership models.

It comes as school budgets are coming under increasing pressure with funding formulas being revised. Some county schools are being encouraged to adopt model where two or more schools share a headteacher to save cash.

However, Mrs Fenoughty believes there are hidden costs.

She said: “In the current climate it is looking increasingly like that is the way it’s going to be. In my opinion this can put a huge burden on the rest of the staff when the head is not on the school premises, especially the deputy head who often has a large teaching commitment.

“Is it which model is best financially, or best educationally, or what is best for the children?

“I still believe the verdict is out about which model will provide the best for children in small rural schools.

“Maybe I’m not clever enough to run more than one school, but I just don’t feel that I could give more than one school my very best.”

Mrs Fenoughty, who started at Butterknowle Primary School in September 2014, will be leaving in December to take up the position of principal at Marchbank Free School, a specialist school for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties, in Darlington.

Durham County Council is carrying out a review of schools, looking at a range of options county-wide, including closures, amalgamations, academy conversions, shared headships and the creation of federations. Funding changes are putting more weight towards pupil numbers – affecting rural schools and those facing a short-term reduction in numbers.

Sharing headteachers is a model that has been used a number of times already.

But Mrs Fenoughty said: “You have to put in additional funding for your admin staff and funding for non-contact time for your deputies – so once they all add up, I am not sure there is a financial saving.”

The headteacher said those who favour the shared leadership role argue that the benefit is not only the saving on the headteacher's salary, but also savings made by sharing provisions and resources.

She said:“My counter argument is that we do that anyway in Teesdale. Our relationship with other schools in the Teesdale area means that we share provisions and resources, as well as meeting up at sporting events, festivals and arts events.”

Mrs Fenoughty, who was previously deputy head at Middleton-in-Teesdale Primary School, oversaw major changes at Butterknowle, which included an entire revamp of the school and the establishment of a multi-purpose outdoor classroom.

Pupil numbers have risen dramatically in the past four years and classes have risen to three.

An Ofsted inspection in May confirmed the school offers a good education with pupils making good progress.

Mrs Fenoughty said: “The school is in really good shape, and Butterknowle is going from strength to strength. We have fantastic teachers and support staff, enthusiastic children and loyal parents, grandparents and carers. Butterknowle Primary School is firmly at the heart of the village and we have strong links with the community which I know will ensure its future.

Speaking about her move to Marchbank, she said: “It is about the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children whose life chances have been limited by circumstances.

“I feel that the next challenge really provides me with an opportunity to keep making a positive difference. I’m excited about the new role, but I know I will shed a few tears when the time comes to say goodbye at Christmas.”

Mrs Fenoughty said that while uncertainty over planned future leadership models in schools were not the reason for her decision to move, it was on her mind when she chose to apply for the position.

Julien Kramer, Durham County Council’s head of education, said: “We’d like to place on record our sincere thanks to Tessa Fenoughty for her headship atButterknowle Primary School and wish her well in her new role.

“Shared headships are an excellent way of building strong local partnerships. They have been brought in nationwide over the last ten years particularly where schools have reducing numbers of pupils in order to maintain good education, and to make sites financially sustainable.

“It is a model we have introduced in parts of the county including Teesdale with success and is an option we will consider when any headship becomes vacant.”