Two heads good

8th October 2004 at 01:00
A new primary is exploring uncharted territories after appointing a leadership partnership. Phil Revell reports

When Trinity primary opens its doors for the first time next September, it may also herald a new era in school leadership. The governors of the Somerset school have taken the highly unusual option of appointing an existing jobshare team to fill the post of headteacher.

The two, Clare Griffin-Felton and Pepe Rahman-Hart, currently lead Camerton school, near Bristol, and believe that it is the best way for them to combine career and family.

"We applied as a package," says Mrs Rahman-Hart, who does much of the talking when the pair work together.

"The job caught our eye at the time," says Mrs Griffin-Felton."It was re-advertised and we decided to apply."

The governors of the new Trinity primary in Radstock were delighted to receive a strong application.

Father Christopher Chiplin, who chaired the appointments panel, says: "We were looking for a candidate with a great deal of energy. This should mean a good work-life balance for both of them and that is a great advantage."

Two other schools are closing to make way for the new primary and the two heads will have to oversee the closures.

Their jobshare began last year at Camerton school. Mrs Griffin-Felton had had a baby and wanted to spend more time with her family.

"I'd been a head for two years, I didn't want to go back to being a classroom teacher, I enjoyed the leadership role," she said.

She consulted the local authority and other jobshare teams. She persuaded Camerton's governors to back the idea and the post was advertised. Three candidates were shortlisted and Mrs Rahman-Hart was chosen.

At the time she was a teaching deputy in a large primary school. She also wanted to spend more time with her new baby. "How else do you stay in the job at the same level?" she asks.

Jobsharing could offer a solution to the dearth of candidates for headships, particularly in the primary sector, where many capable teachers are put off by the head's workload.

"We have always pressed strongly for the jobshare solution where it is appropriate," says David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "It's never going to be the norm, but we need to break down prejudice where it exists."

Rebecca Clake, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says research shows that jobshares are particularly attractive to women and are most likely in the administration and personal employment sectors. Less than 1 per cent of the working population share jobs.

She says: "For the employer it is a way to hang on to valuable staff. If you have two people you actually have two lots of expertise."

The Somerset duo emphasise that jobsharing is not for the uncommitted.

"It's two days a week on paper, but you have to have a full-time mentality," says Mrs Rahman-Hart. The pair liken it to flying a plane: the passengers do not notice that the pilots swapped over mid-flight.

Overlap time is important. In bigger organisations this is often built into the contract, with half a day spent together.

A 62-pupil primary could not afford such a luxury and the women keep each other briefed through an "orange book" of notes and marathon phone calls.

"I arranged my phone bill so that the call to Pepe is free," said Mrs Griffin-Felton. "Which is just as well, because we are sometimes on the phone for two to three hours."

The pair have very different personalities.

"People say that I am the loud brash one and Clare is the quiet, serious one," says Mrs Rahman-Hart.

But they share values and a teaching philosophy. They are very aware of their rarity value, and of the potential pitfalls.

In some situations they do appear together, sometimes because the meeting is so crucial, budget meetings with the education authority, for example.

They have complementary styles; sometimes one will save something for the other because she knows the job will suit her strengths. Staff respond differently depending on which head they are dealing with.

Other schools have used jobshares to keep leaders who were about to leave.

The Colleton primary school in Wokingham, Berkshire, appointed a jobshare team when they were faced with the resignation of the headteacher and the deputy.

"I was due to return from maternity leave and decided that I didn't want to work full-time any more," says Nicola Allan, who had been deputy head at the school for more than three years. "I didn't want to resign, but did want to reduce my hours and could not see a way in my current role."

Simultaneously Karen Davis, Colleton's head for five years, decided to resign to spend more time with her family.

The governors advertised the head's post, but with no success. They were re-running the advertisement when Nicola and Karen decided to apply as a jobshare partnership.

"We both thought, 'Why shouldn't we jobshare the headship'?" says Nicola Allen. "We had various jobshare teams running in the school. In fact, out of the seven class bases three operated as a jobshare, and the support staff work a variety of flexible hours."

Men share jobs as well as women. Husband and wife Patrick and Sarah Fielding share a headship. The couple, who work at Mayflower primary in Leicester, decided to go for a headship together after four years of sharing a deputy headship.

John Nicholls cut down to a four-day week at his Norfolk primary school in response to a short-term budget crisis.

"It meant I gained a better work-life balance, spending more time with my three-year-old daughter."

Anyone considering the possibility of a jobshare, whether as a partnership or as an employer, needs to consider the legal and financial situation.

Appointing a jobshare partnership also raises questions of its own. Mrs Rahman-Hart and Mrs Griffin-Felton were interviewed separately, at their suggestion, after Trinity's governors asked them for their preference.

Rebecca Clake recommends seeing a potential partnership working together.

"These people will operate as a team," she says. "It is essential that the interviewing panel sees how that will work."

And does it work? Mrs Rahman-Hart and Mrs Griffin-Felton offer an emphatic "Yes", and Mrs Rahman-Hart adds: "We are constantly having to prove to people that it's successful, but I know it works.

"And I'm doing something I passionately believe in, but I can also be with my children," she said.

The CIPD has published a book on flexible working that includes some headteacher examples. Managing work-life balance is by David Clutterbuck.

Details from the CIPD website Flexecutive worked with Clare Griffin-Felton and Pepe Rahman-Hart to help make the jobshare work. The company offers advice on the law and on the practicalities of job-sharing and its website offers case studies of job sharers and types of flexible working.


Establish how the jobshare will function: treat each other as equal partners. Share the less interesting areas of work.

Organise your hours: agree whether you can cover for each other's illnesses, whether day swaps are possible, and how much notice is needed.

Hand-overs: decide how often you will meet, phone or email each other, and what records you will keep.

In the early days: attend training together, to establish a good working relationship, set the ground rules, and meet new colleagues.

Working relationship: spend time discussing work issues: you need to understand the way your partner works and be alert to any contentious issues. You are a partnership and must speak with one voice.

Handle conflicts immediately: make sure colleagues know who does what and when, and what is expected of them.

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