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Power of mothers in union

Philippa White on a pioneering jobshare in Oxford that shows secondaries can be family-friendly too.

Combining a high-flying career with stay-at-home motherhood may seem a pipe dream for ambitious secondary teachers.

But, for Sarah Brinkley and Julia Preston, sharing a managenent post is a welcome reality. The pair each spend one week in every fortnight as full-time head of English at Matthew Arnold school, Oxford, and the other at home with their young families.

Their head is delighted to have kept two experienced staff members, and inspectors have praised the set-up. "Fundamentally, you lose the guilt," said Mrs Brinkley, the former full-time assistant head whose children Jack, Max and Isobel are aged six, two, and nine months.

"In my previous jobs, I felt that if I had children I had to show they didn't influence the way I worked. Here, having made it to assistant head, I didn't have anything to prove. I thought, actually, it would be nice to spend some time seeing the children growing up."

Ms Preston, the former full-time head of English, whose children Lawrence and Georgia are seven and 21 months, says the job-share is the best of both worlds.

"Before, I didn't feel as if I was being the best head of department, or the best mother, I could be," she said. "I was being stretched too thin - having to make too many compromises.

"Now I can do the head of English job really well and I don't have guilt about the children because I have the time off to spend with them. It's fantastic."

The school's Ofsted report last term said leadership and management in the English department was "very effective".

Adrian Percival, head of the 970-pupil 11-18 comprehensive, said: "Sarah's brilliant and Julia's brilliant, so we have a first-rate team for head of English."

"They are both very keen on being in charge, and are both very good at it.

The jobshare will probably lock them in for longer because it works so well."

Since September, the women have each worked Wednesday to Tuesday, and then taken a week off, using the same childminder for their children.

They share classes and keep a detailed management diary to ensure the other is fully up to speed when she takes over.

They describe themselves as full-time jobsharers, rather than part-time teachers, and are keen to keep their management experience current for when they return to full-time work.

"I think it's a shame that job-shares are common among my friends who are primary teachers but so rare for secondary," said Ms Preston.

Jane Creasy, assistant director of research at the National College for School Leadership, said: "Schools are finding more imaginative ways to organise their workforce. These sort of arrangements can work well but each school is different and needs to find solutions to suit their own circumstances."

But John Howson, a professor at Oxford Brookes specialising in teacher recruitment, said: "It clearly works for these individuals because they are enthusiastic and they are making it successful. But this jobshare is not just about the teaching role - as head of department there is an issue of leadership and providing continuity for the department."

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