A COUNCIL decision to advertise for a non-Catholic “leader of learning” for an RC primary school which has struggled to find a new headteacher has been backed by parents.

St Martin’s RC Primary School in Tranent has launched a fifth recruitment drive for a new headteacher after the post was vacated last year.

But in a first for the county, it is also advertising for an alternative leader of learning post which would be open to non-Catholic applicants.

The move has been described by the school’s parent council as “bold and progressive” as its members support the search.

However, the Humanist Society Scotland criticised the decision to offer a headteacher post under a different title, describing rules which state heads in RC schools should be Catholic as “archaic”.

According to East Lothian Council, the Equalities Act allows for exemptions in denominational schools, allowing those schools to stipulate that candidates should be of a certain faith.

Since Catholic schools were brought into the state system in 1918, education laws have allowed the Church to be involved in decisions relating to appointments of staff.

St Martin’s currently has an acting headteacher seconded from another RC primary school in East Lothian. But attempts to find a Catholic headteacher to take the role permanently have so far failed and the alternative post of leader of learning is also being advertised.

The leader of learning would have the same responsibilities as a headteacher but the role would not require the new appointee to be Catholic.

The decision, which was agreed with the Catholic Diocese, would be a first in East Lothian, although similar posts have been created in other local authority areas as a shortage of headteachers in general puts pressure on schools.

St Martin’s has a roll of 175 pupils, with about 38 per cent of them registered as Catholic.

A spokesperson for the school’s parent council said: “St Martin’s Parent Council, who represent the parent body of the school, have been very much involved at every stage of the decision to advertise for a headteacher/leader of learning.

“We feel, due to the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the previous recruitment campaigns, this is a bold and progressive step forward to hopefully fill the post.

“We look forward to welcoming the successful candidate once the recruitment process is completed.  We wish them every success in taking our school forward.”

Earlier this week, Fraser Sutherland, campaign manager for the Humanist Society Scotland, criticised the “archaic rules that require someone of faith to hold a headteacher’s post in denominational schools”, which he branded “open discrimination”.

He said: “The council appear to only now have grasped that having a competent, fully qualified professional teacher is what is required to lead pupil development in local schools rather than looking for someone with a specific faith.

“This decision is made even more peculiar by their insistence that any successful non-Catholic to the post is barred from being called headteacher.”

East Lothian Council said it had been working in partnership with the Diocese to find a solution to the recruitment issue, insisting the search for a Catholic headteacher would continue.

A spokesperson said: “The council was unable to appoint a suitable candidate during multiple campaigns to recruit a new headteacher for St Martin’s RC Primary School.

“Therefore, due to this unique and unprecedented situation for East Lothian, our education service is working in partnership with the Diocese to secure a new headteacher for the school and to introduce this new post, leader of learning, if required.

“We remain committed to retaining St Martin’s RC Primary at the heart of the Catholic community.”