Can it ever be good to share a headship?

24th March 2006 at 00:00
My governors and I are talking about the possibility of making one of my deputy heads a co-headteacher with me. One idea we are considering is one deputy becoming head for one day a week. The governors are becoming more and more concerned about the worklife balance issue for me and the succession issue for the school. What do you think about such a proposition? What do we need to think about?

The first thing for you to discuss with your governors is whether or not co-headship is the right solution to their concerns. There are very few schools in this country with co-headteachers. (The National College for School Leadership estimates there are around 30 or so at present).

Therefore while you think this solution may be spot on for your needs, you need to be sure about it before you launch into a firm arrangement. There may be other ways to deal with your worklife balance and succession at your school. Questions to consider are: why exactly are your governors concerned about the worklife balance issue for you? Why are they concerned about the succession issue for your school?

There is no guarantee that co-headship will improve your worklife balance, nor solve the succession problem for your school, if your co-head demands more from you than you receive from them, or ultimately they decide that headship is not for them.

The second thing that I would like to know is: who exactly becomes co-head with you?

You say that you are considering 'one of my deputies' so one of the issues must be how that deputy is selected. Obviously this new arrangement will work more efficiently and effectively if the deputy wants this working arrangement.

However, what form will the selection process take? How are you going to deal with the other deputy headteacher(s)? How are you going to communicate this new arrangement to staff? How will roles and responsibilities be decided for the two of you? What effect will this arrangement have on your leadership team? There are some thorny and sensitive issues in amongst all this! If you get these issues sorted out and the right person accepts this opportunity in the spirit it is intended, then, it may address the two areas of concern to your governors.

You then need to consider your desired outcomes in more detail. On worklife balance, for instance, one model being used by some schools is the one you are considering, where your deputy is head for one day each week and gains valuable experience. Meanwhile you would work as a consultant using your expertise to, for example, gain funding so that no additional cost is incurred by the school. Or you could use that day to decide with your governors what you need to do to address their concerns about your worklife balance. Some schools allocate this time to their headteacher for innovation work. Other heads have even used this time to re-engage with teaching!

What about helping with succession? This arrangement can be a great way to train new headteachers, particularly if you combine it with the NPQH programme. Not only does the deputyco-head benefit from a training programme but also from direct support from an experienced head with time for this development work. This does lend itself to the creation of a potential candidate for succession. Much of the success of this initiative in your, or any school, will depend upon the professional chemistry between you and the person selected to become co-head with you.

The two of you must share a common vision for the school and be professionally like-minded. If this is the case then many of the potential problems can be avoided. As with most initiatives in education, eventually their success or otherwise comes down to the quality of the personalprofessional relationships and the degree to which values are shared. You are about to travel an innovative road; therefore write the appropriate roadmap for the journey. Bon voyage!

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, having been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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