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When is a headteacher not one?

Question: when is a head not a head? Answer: it depends

Question: when is a head not a head? Answer: it depends

Question: when is a head not a head? Answer: it depends.

Take a federation with several schools and a single governing body. Are the people in charge of the separate - or not separate - schools deputies or heads? If heads, can one be a "superhead" and tell the others what to do?

Rules say a school can only have one head in whom ultimate responsibility lies (job-sharing heads split that job into two part-time ones). So if there is one overriding head, the others are deputies; otherwise, all the others are heads, have the ultimate say in "their own" schools, and must be full voting members of the federation governing body.

What of the "executive head" of a failing school? If it does not have a boss of its own, the executive head may in law be the seconded head (leaving an acting head in her own) or head of two establishments. But if the existing head of the failing place is still in post, then the "executive head" is just an adviser, even if the price for the existing head continuing in post may be obedience to the executive head. And the pay scale for this? Unknown.

Schools with "flat management" and no deputies? Only deputies can be required to deputise. So there might be no one whom the head can leave in charge, as she must by law. Do we really have underpaid deputies here? People work out conundrums somehow, but it is not satisfactory to have uncertain legal foundations. The social partnership and the School Teachers' Review Body have much to clear up. Until they do, it is wise to be clear about your role - in advance.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association for School and College Lecturers.

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