How flexible working and job-shares could change school leadership

Feb. 27, 2018
Hannah Turbet

Hannah Turbet

Co-founder, Shared Headship Network

I’d love to step up to headship, and support my staff to deliver an amazing education to some of the most disadvantaged young people - and I believe that job-sharing would allow me to do so.

I’d love to be able to use everything that I have learned in senior leadership to deliver my own vision of an outstanding school. All of this, despite knowing how challenging it can be to be a headteacher.

What makes me reluctant is I have seen the personal challenges that headship brings, especially the hours required in school and the demands on your time after the “normal” working day. I (and my husband) would like to work part-time to be able to spend more time with our daughter. Why shouldn’t flexible working apply when choosing a career in teaching – one where flexible working is possible at all levels of leadership?

Is flexible working the answer?

In many professions, flexible working allows individuals to step up and take on new challenges – and all the while fit their changing lifestyles in without giving up their career pathways. But experienced teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders are leaving the teaching profession or putting off applying for promotions as requests for part time working are rejected or they cannot see how promotion opportunities can be compatible with their personal life.

I’d put myself in that category. While there are some fantastic role models who choose to combine full time headship with family life, this isn’t how I want to work. But rather than put off headship for the next 15 or 20 years until my children are older, I think there can be another way.

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Flexible working in practice

I’ve seen, first hand, the successes of flexible working. I am fortunate to work for a headteacher who supported my decision to work 0.75FTE as a Deputy Headteacher. This arrangement works well for the school as I’m in work 4 days of the week (leaving early on one day) so am fully involved in school life, but also means that I get to spend the time that I want to with my daughter. I am around to take her to the swimming pool or park and I love this extra time with her.

It is important however that I am flexible if needed – I’ll return to school to attend Governors meetings, for example. In fact, this arrangement also had an additional benefit to the school - one of the Assistant Heads was appointed as an Associate Deputy Head to cover the 0.25 when I am not in school, which has also given her the career progression she was looking for. There are also 2 Assistant Head teachers who will return from maternity leave this year to job share the Head of Sixth Form on 3 days a week each.

But our set-up is hardly the norm. In secondary, only 6.5% of assistant head positions are part time (compared to about 21% of classroom teachers). There are less than 4% of deputy headteachers who work in any sort of part time form and less than 3% of headteachers. The option to move schools for a promotion is even more challenging - less than 2% of leadership jobs are currently advertised as part-time positions on Tes.

Shared leadership as the future

So how we can meet the increasing need for flexible working in our profession? Fortunately, a shift has started taking place across the education sector. In October the DfE held a Flexible Working Summit looking at the barriers to flexible working in schools and different options that schools can take to give staff the option to work more flexibly.

A few schools are now committing to ensuring that job adverts explicitly state that posts are open to flexible or part time work. At the highest level, there are some examples of governing bodies who have appointed two people into a job share headship, particularly in the primary sector.

But as with many things, change starts from the ground up. I believe that job share headships must become more common place to address the headteacher crisis and to provide opportunities for both women and men to be able to combine parenthood with headship.

Together with three colleagues (all senior leaders in challenging London schools and recently returned from maternity leave) we have been working on a new organisation: The Shared Headship Network.

"There are less than 4% of deputy headteachers who work in any sort of part time form and less than 3% of headteachers. "

The network provides the structure for strong school leaders to meet professional partners looking for senior leadership positions who share each other’s vision and values.

Through a coaching and matching process, school leaders can ensure compatibility with their job share partner. The network also believes in supporting members with job applications, interviews and their first year in job-share, including by means of professional coaches.

Research has shown that one of the biggest indicators of success for shared headships is buy in from stake holders. So through active engagement with governors, local authorities and academy chains, we will work to ensure that opportunities for flexible working in education continue to develop and that the culture in schools supports this.

I believe that shared headship will not only benefit those doing the job-share but is also advantageous to schools. Those job-sharing will have an additional level of accountability to each other and will bring the shared experience of both headteachers to help drive school improvement.

Two headteachers can support each other, will be more resilient to the challenges of leadership in an urban complex school and can provide an opportunity for succession planning. And finally, for me, it is really important for staff and students to see that it is possible to combine school leadership with family life.

The Shared Headship Network want to hear the views of other senior leaders aspiring to headship or even current headteachers. Please complete our five minute survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/sharedheadshipnetwork.

If you are interested in finding out more and becoming part of this exciting movement, please register your interest at www.sharedheadshipnetwork.com


Hannah is a graduate from our Future Leaders programme. Future Leaders is a two-year intensive leadership development programme for senior leaders who aim to become headteachers of schools in challenging contexts within three years.


This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.


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