When Mayfield Primary School’s headteacher of 25 years retired, two senior leaders – Sarah Stepney and Paula Ayliffe – took the opportunity to demonstrate their inclusive, equitable approach to education. Find out about their experiences and top tips for co-headship.
1. Start by speaking to local colleagues
Prior to submitting our joint application for the post of Headteacher we visited three schools in our area with part-time, co-headteachers. Everyone we spoke to described very positive experiences.
Their main advice was to prioritise good communication, with handovers an area that sometimes caused problems. Our proposed model of a 50% head/ 50% deputy contract meant that both of us would be in school full-time- alleviating this issue altogether.
2. Make your case to convince stakeholders
When we put our proposal to the governors they were open-minded, and challenged us to convince them that the idea was workable and would benefit the school community. We were both interviewed separately and offered the opportunity to present our vision of co-headship and confirm that we would be willing to take on the role independently.
We planned separate presentations on ‘where would Mayfield be in three years’ time?’ for our interviews. When we later shared them with each other it was striking how similar they were in terms of ethos- but we chose to present our ideas in completely different ways.
This is one of our strengths as a team – we have the same vision for our school, but bring different ideas and approaches to the table.
We were delighted to be offered the post and began our journey as co-headteachers in September 2019.
3. Implement your priorities
At the first inset day we shared our presentation with staff so they were able to understand our vision and how we saw our co-headship working on a day to day basis.
In our first year we have introduced two new initiatives:
- ‘Out and about’, half a day timetabled for outside learning for every class, every week, whatever the weather.
- Termly ‘Spirals of Enquiry’ weeks, an opportunity for all children to have a thirty minute structured conversation with their teacher whilst the rest of the class are engaged in child-led projects. During conversations children create a ‘learning journal’ of work they are proud of and this journal, along with a comprehensive teacher comment, has formed the main part of each child’s report this year.
In our first year, we also:
- Continued to maintain a presence in the classroom, teaching approximately one day each week – something that will continue into next year as we strive to minimise costs.
- Elevated the status of our school business manager. She’s our financial expert, and therefore in the best position to manage and lead the fabric of the school.
Our first parent survey was the most positive one our chair of governors (in post for seven years) said she had seen. Parents and carers were supportive of our two new initiatives and could see the benefit to their children’s independence, self-regulation and well-being.
Getting staff buy in
We want all our staff to feel invested in Mayfield’s journey. To achieve this we have an open door policy for all staff, and focus groups for each of our School Development Plan aims. The groups meet at regular timetabled slots to review our progress towards these aims, reflect on successes and discuss next steps.
Surveys and interviews carried out by our governors have indicated that parents and staff are overwhelmingly with us. We have also had excellent feedback from the new format for reporting to parents.
One parent recently stopped Paula in the street and said
A member of staff commented to another teacher, “You know it’s good having two heads, there is always someone to talk to who can make a decision.”
As we look ahead to 2019-20 we have a clear plan and we know where we want to take the school, including building on Spirals of Enquiry at a whole school level.
We have both immensely enjoyed our first year of headship and are excited to continue our journey together.
Top tips from Paula and Sarah for a co-headship model of school leadership:
2. Trust each other and agree that decisions and their outcomes, good or bad, whoever makes them, belong to both of you.
3. Share an email account and triage emails daily (but only once daily!)
4. Ensure that the school community see you as a team that communicate well and share all the responsibilities.
5. Go for long walks together – a good time to talk through plans and check you are on track.