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Six heads are better than one

Doubling the management team brought a more equitable spread of responsibilities to a school in Chester. Steven Hastings reports

Catholic high school in Chester was running smoothly last year when its management team decided to "pull things apart", says assistant head Andy Rumsby. "It's temptingto think that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But we decided to see what we came up with."

In this case "pulling things apart" meant a full review of teaching roles and responsibilities, redefined job descriptions and new career opportunities - for every member of staff. Then John Jones, a former Cheshire headteacher turned consultant, was brought in to act as a "critical friend", with a brief to "make everyone a leader".

Mr Jones had been into other schools that had restructured their management teams. "What was unique here," he says, "was the commitment to extending that to the whole staff. That said, there's only one place to start restructuring - at the top."

With that in mind, the school management team was doubled with the appointment of three assistant heads. Now, instead of one head and two over-burdened deputies, responsibility for running the school is shared six ways. The result has been much-needed breathing space. "It's less manic. There is time for thought and reflection, time to offer staff genuine support," says Mr Rumsby, whose own post was created as part of the reshuffle.

The person to benefit most from the expansion of the management team has been the head, Vicki Ratchford. She says the changes have allowed her to remodel her style of leadership. "It's been very liberating. My role is much more strategic now, with time to stand back and see the larger picture. I'm not bogged down in the day-to-day running of things, and it allows me to spend even more time around the school."

The potential benefits of spreading the load are obvious. But the key, says Andy Rumsby, is to define each person's role with absolute clarity. And so, in true corporate style, the leadership team spent a weekend away, team-building and clarifying their roles and the responsibilities required to run a 913-strong secondary. Their specific areas of responsibility were then outlined to the rest of the staff.

"It is important that staff are clear about who to go to with any given problem. They are more likely to seek help if they know exactly whose job it is to offer them support," says Mr Rumsby.

With the new leadership team in place, restructuring the rest of the staff could begin - though it's a process the school expects will take two years to complete. Rather than imposing changes from above, the school set up a working group consisting of staff with a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Their task is to identify how leadership opportunities can be extended to the whole staff, and to decide what posts and responsibilities are to be created. It's early days, but already the team has reviewed some aspects of the staff structure. The leadership team has created two new posts - a PSHEcitizenship co-ordinator and an assistant examinations officer.

"Staff like to feel they are involved in shaping their own role within the school," explains Emma Fletcher, a young teacher in her third year. "If decisions are handed down by men in suits, people feel alienated. This way there is a real sense of opportunity." She says that sitting on the leadership design team provides a valuable insight into the workings of school management. "It's a wonderful opportunity at what is still a fairly early stage of my career - but it's only what would be expected of me in any other industry. Sadly, in teaching you often don't get any input until you reach senior management level, and that can take a long time."

Her enthusiasm for the task vindicates the ethos behind the programme. "What most staff want," insists Mr Rumsby, "is the chance to stretch themselves and to take on responsibility appropriate to their experience and ambitions."

Staff also want to be properly rewarded for the work they take on. And so the school has had to commit a sizeable chunk of its budget to funding new posts and opportunities. But, as Mr Rumsby explains, a motivated and contented staff is a worthy priority.

"I moved here from a school in south-west London, where recruiting staff was difficult. Here, recruitment is less of a problem, but retaining and motivating staff and providing them with opportunities - that can be an even bigger challenge."

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