When two heads are better than one

A Bedfordshire school has found a new way to cut stress among head teachers - appoint a pair of them. By Richard Garner
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Head teachers normally come in singles, on the grounds that you need one strong person in charge. Now, however, a school in Bedfordshire is hoping to show that it works better to appoint heads in pairs, in a development that could herald a wider change in the running of schools. Two heads can support each other, reduce their individual stress levels, test out ideas collaboratively and perform more effectively.

Under an arrangement thought to be unique in UK education, Hastingsbury Upper and Community school in Kempston has hired both its deputies to the post of head teacher from September. The duo, Julia Wynd, 46, and Martin Fletcher, 41, will receive a salary half-way between that of a head and a deputy and share responsibility equally for running the school.

The two have actively chosen to do the job this way. Having been acting heads since the present head, Martin Mathews, went on sick leave last year, they put in a joint application to do the job full-timewhen it was advertised, describing their choice as a "lifestyle decision". Their application was the best the school received, according to the governors, and the duo beat four other candidates at the interview.

"We believe we can provide a better quality service for the school because there are two brains working on things," says Mrs Wynd. "We have a unique opportunity to talk to each other as equals in a way that a head and a deputy may not be able to do."

The two have divided some of the responsibilities. Mr Fletcher is in charge of day-to-day financial matters, while Mrs Wynd supervises the school's inclusion policy. Both are responsible for different areas of the curriculum, in a school that has 900 pupils but also teaches up to 2,000 adults a week. "The school has had a long tradition of teamwork," says Mr Fletcher. "If we disagree, we will take the situation away and think about it. We do share the same philosophy and I think this is a model that can be replicated elsewhere."

The pair are conscious that the previous head suffered a heart attack and believe that shared decision making will help to reduce stress levels. "This type of arrangement ought to be considered in other situations to make it possible for people to carry on longer in their jobs," says Mrs Wynd.

According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, the development could be a sign of things to come. "Provided the two people are philosophically united, I think it could work very well indeed," he says. "It will increase the feeling of the headteacher's presence around the school. The model of headship that we have had for the last century is beginning to change, and I think some heads nowadays feel as if they're doing two jobs because the range of their responsibilities is so wide."

The only similar arrangement is at the Stantonbury Campus in Milton Keynes, where there are two different units for 11 to 16-year-olds, each with nearly 1,000 pupils, plus a sixth-form centre on the same site. The school has appointed two co-directors, who have responsibility for the entire campus. No school has yet appointed two joint heads to run an existing establishment.

The Department for Education and Skills says there are no legal obstacles to job-sharers taking the post of headteacher. "But arrangements such as this could bring to light a range of issues that the governing body would need to think carefully about," said a spokeswoman. "This could include how the head's statutory functions would be undertaken on a shared basis and what happens in the event of a dispute."

The arrangement is supported by the parents, who have showered the pair with flowers and chocolates. For now, the two are concentrating on the new telephone system, which was delivered last week and will enable them to listen to the same call together.