Flexible working: How to job-share the role of primary headteacher

Written by: Alison Fitch & Rebecca Stacey | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Job-sharing the role of headteacher is an increasingly popular option. Co-heads Alison Fitch and Rebecca Stacey explain how their role works, why it is effective and why job-sharing could be a key factor in retaining more teachers


We are co-heads at Boxgrove Primary School in Surrey, part of the Guildford Education Partnership, and we have been job-sharing for more than five years.

Since the pandemic hit, flexible working has become more mainstream. We have long felt that allowing for more flexibility in the education sector would lead to more teachers wanting to stay in teaching and not leave the profession.

It remains the case that most roles, for class teachers and senior leadership positions, are still advertised as full-time. However, as one child at our school once told an Ofsted inspector: “Two heads are better than one!”

Our role was not advertised as a job-share, and we were working as the deputy and assistant head at Boxgrove when an interim headteacher position arose.

It was not practical for either of us to take it on full-time due to other commitments. However, we already had such a strong working relationship (having been at the school for more than 15 years) that we felt we should seize this opportunity to prove that being co-heads could have a significant impact on the development of the school.

When we pitched the idea of a job-share, we knew how important it was to have the governors on board. To demonstrate the benefits, we visited two schools who already had co-heads to learn about their experiences.


Protection from burn-out

Teaching is a hugely rewarding vocation, but it can be difficult to balance work and life. Sharing our role helps to protect us from the burn-out that can affect others in the profession. It also helps ensure we can bring real vitality to the position on the days we are working.

Being a headteacher is a great privilege but as with being at the top of any organisation, it can be isolating. Splitting the role means we can support each other when required and provide on-going supervision during stressful situations.

­We believe job-sharing has allowed us to invest more emotionally in the school than if one person was carrying the responsibility of the position alone. We are proud of the warm and nurturing environment we have cultivated at Boxgrove and the support we lend each other makes this possible.

The mental load you carry as a parent and a headteacher is immense; you are acutely aware of how important the early years of a child’s life are, both in terms of your own children and those who attend your school.

Instinctively, we both always want to go the extra mile and do everything we can to help those that it is our responsibility to educate and care for.

However, we are conscious that it is also only right to conserve energy for our own children and job-sharing makes preserving your own mental and physical health easier.


Communication is key

When we started as co-heads, we felt it was crucial to clarify our vision for the school and we continually return to the points we assembled then to ensure we are on track. This also means that we are always on the same page when providing answers to staff and governors.

Wednesdays are a brilliant day for us as that is when we get together to discuss how to strategically move the school forward for the children at Boxgrove, along with making long-term plans.

Communication is key in a job-share and we are conscious of making each other aware of what we have done so that we do not waste time duplicating activities.


The costs

There can be associated costs with these sorts of arrangements, but we do not think you can put a price on the value that experienced educators bring to schools. As we overlap on one full day, there are six days of headteacher costs to be covered, but we balance this by not having a deputy head and having an assistant head instead. Being thoughtful about our finances has meant that our overall leadership costs are below average compared to other schools in our MAT.


Embracing flexible working across the board

Being part of a supportive and forward-thinking trust has also been key – we are one of two female co-head partnerships in a family of seven schools.

Many of the other staff at Boxgrove are also part-time at all levels of the organisation. By embracing more flexible employment practices we can keep talented and experienced members of staff who the school might otherwise have lost.

Those with young families often take a break from teaching as it can feel like the demands of the job are incompatible with caring for your own children. Offering flexible working means you can retain parents on your team which is so important.

Many staff also use flexible working to embrace other aspects of their life when they are not on site. Who better to empathise with families at our school than staff who are also parents and carers!

A positive legacy from the pandemic is the fact that we now have a deeper understanding of our colleagues’ home commitments. This can only be a positive step, as to keep teachers in the profession we need to make it possible to balance this huge commitment with family life.


Response from the staff and community

We are delighted that our staff recognise how much we put into the school as co-heads. This has led to mammoth discretionary efforts, by staff and the wider community, including the creation of Boxgrove’s Community Café, a wonderful facility where children, their families and those in the local area are welcome.

Year after year our parent surveys demonstrate confidence in this leadership model, with 98 per cent consistently saying that “The school is well led and managed” and 98 per cent also agreeing that “I would recommend the school to another parent”.


An evolving role

No arrangement is perfect, so you have to be prepared to keep adapting – the pandemic has also been a lesson in this too. When we started as co-heads, we divided up the different responsibilities but over time we changed this approach as we realised that so many are interlinked meaning that this wasn’t an optimal arrangement.

Also, we made the decision to have our performance management done as one unit as we are both equally accountable for the school’s performance.

Our advice to those who want to job-share is to be confident in what you have to offer. Unfortunately, too many people still feel they need to justify their wish to work flexibly. As co-heads we are just as committed to the school, the pupils and the staff and our contribution cannot be measured in hours alone.

We feel so lucky to have each other and part of what makes Boxgrove so special is our shared vision for the school. If there is one thing that makes a job-share truly successful, it is having the right person to share it with.

  • Alison Fitch and Rebecca Stacey are co-headteachers at Boxgrove Primary School in Surrey which is part of the Guildford Education Partnership (GEP Academies).


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