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Marriage gains Ofsted blessing

The first couple to job-share a headship say it has been good for both their school and their relationship, writes Roger Bushby.

It could have been a recipe for disaster - for both a marriage and a school.

Last year we told the story of Sarah and Patrick Fielding, the first married couple in Britain to hold a job-share headship. Now, over 12 months later, their relationship is as strong as ever and has even been blessed by inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education went into the 420-pupil Mayflower primary on the outskirts of Leicester, in May this year, six months after Sarah and Patrick took the helm. They described the school as very effective and very well managed, with clear direction and an effective plan of action. Teaching was very good. Vitally, the job-share worked very well.

"Yes, they liked what they saw," said Patrick, who also detected "curiosity" among the Ofsted team. "They stayed totally within their remit, but were obviously fascinated by the way Sarah and I operate, both inside and outside school."

So how does this potentially fraught relationship work so well? Sarah and Patrick, both in their mid-30s, alternate doing two and three days a week.While one works the other looks after daughters Eleanor, six, and Hannah, four.

"The great thing is that you have time to give the kids a piano lesson at home before taking them to their school, knowing that your other half is running the other school in just the way you want it!" said Patrick.

He applauded governors for appointing them. "If the job-share hadn't worked and Ofsted had gone belly-up, the governors' heads would have been on the line."

The couple still follow the same routine as when they started at Mayflower. Dinner is cooked by whoever is off. Around an hour is spent discussing the day's events at school. "If we disagree on a school issue, we've learnt to move on, talk round it, and eventually reach a balanced solution - and it's all round your own dinner table. That's what we call quality time," said Patrick.

The couple had spent four years as job-share deputies at Greenwood junior school, Nottingham before coming to Leicester. "We know it works and I don't feel that we have to justify it any more," said Sarah. "On the marital front it's positive. It simply adds to our happiness. Whenever you come up against a difficult issue, you know there's mutual support."

Teacher Pam Gundrey said: "It's good for children to have two role models, and it means that parents can speak to their preferred head."

Fascination with the couple shows no sign of abating. Enquiries about how they work have come from as far afield as New Zealand's Department of Education.

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