2020 Summer Term


  • We're here to help
    Geoff Barton says school and college leaders have risen to the challenges of the current pandemic and have provided calm and principled leadership. Here he highlights how ASCL has and will continue to support you throughout. More
  • Stronger together
    Senior leaders Abigail Boddy and Catherine Carre believe that having two heads rather than one can offer a healthy, powerful and sustainable approach to school leadership. More
  • The missing link
    MFL Consultant, Suzanne O'Farrell highlights ASCL's Key Stage 2/3 Flexible Transition Toolkit, which provides primary leaders with an expert overview of what knowledge and skills could equip their learners for a good start in Key Stage 3, and provides strong deliverable foundations for language learning at secondary. More
  • Technically speaking...
    With so much uncertainty concerning the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Suzanne Straw, from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), reflects on the findings of NFER's research on T levels, and the implications of the current context on the roll out of the first T levels in September. More
  • Be LGBT inclusive
    Deputy Headteacher David Lowbridge-Ellis shares ten simple ways you can support your LGBT staff and pupils. More
  • Strengthening bonds
    Chair of the Teaching Schools Council, Richard Gill, sees the new Teaching School Hubs as an opportunity to evolve the education system. Here he explains his thinking around the hubs and talks to one school leader taking part in the test and learn hubs. More
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Senior leaders Abigail Boddy and Catherine Carré believe that having two heads rather than one can offer a healthy, powerful and sustainable approach to school leadership.

Stronger together

We both consider ourselves to be ambitious, successful deputy heads who have worked hard to develop and improve as educators and leaders throughout our careers.

However, two years ago, when our headteacher announced her retirement, we both stalled at this opportunity that was presented to us. We spent time encouraging each other to apply for the post with absolute certainty that the other was perfect for the role. However, neither of us could click send on the application form. We reflected on what was holding us back:

  1. We didn’t relish the prospect of working in isolation. We loved our working relationship; we found it allowed us to be creative and brave, at the same time as providing support and encouragement when things got tough.
  2. Work–life balance. We like seeing our families.
  3. In no small measure, imposter syndrome. Were we good enough?

As it happened, the recruitment campaign for a new head didn’t go as expected. This presented a completely different opportunity – we agreed with the governors to act as co-heads while they extended their recruitment campaign. This turned out to be from September 2019 to May 2020.

Do your research

We started to investigate existing partnerships to see what they looked like in practice. Co-headship is rare, however, there are some incredibly successful co-heads out there. We met with three of them. We had open and candid conversations about the potential pitfalls and talked anecdotally about examples of co-headships that had not worked out. Working successfully as partners, in essence, was down to: a shared vision, a willingness to think and work differently, professional trust, an excellent working relationship, and a combination of talents where the sum was way much more than the parts.

Have clear expectations

We were clear about what co-headship would be for us – two heads with one voice, one set of values, one vision. We understood that some might see co-headship as overly complicated, ambiguous and conflicted, however we were clear that, for us, the benefits of co-headship – for capacity, breadth of talent and skills, wellbeing, safekeeping, enjoyment and outstanding success – significantly outweighed the risks.

Share accountability equally

It was then down to practicalities, principally accountability. It is important to note here that we are a standalone academy. We would have to be collectively accountable for corporate management responsibilities, such as finance, HR, procurement, legal compliance… scary words and, like most deputy heads, our backgrounds were all about teaching and learning, raising achievement, and behaviour (alongside our safeguarding duties).

The overriding guiding principle for how accountability was to be shared was our agreement that any difficult decision would start with our commitment to two heads, one voice, one set of values, one vision.

The new levels of accountability we had to take on and respond to included safeguarding, HR, finance, and whole-school unexpected events. Whole-school unexpected events, considering this year, deserves mentioning twice!

We split the accountabilities in this way: Abi as the Designated Safeguarding Officer and oversees Human Resources, Cath as the Accounting Officer. This is the ‘two heads’ bit. The ‘one voice’ bit comes from an agreement that if one goes down, we both go down.

This structure allowed us the practicality of carrying out separately the day-to-day corporate management activities that come with these areas of accountability. However, sharing the ultimate accountability, knowing that we both take the hit should something go wrong (hoping it never would!), meant we made sure we shared headlines with each other on a weekly basis – often daily – a built-in check and balance system. In reality, the web of crossovers between HR and finance makes it almost impossible to operate in complete isolation, so it turned out to be a better division of accountability than we had originally envisaged.

Very quickly staff fell into routines and, interestingly, there was never an issue over who to go to for what. In fact, it occurred to us that in business, partnership, at a senior level, is normal, accepted, embedded – a model that is never questioned.

Support each other through crisis

What a year we chose to really test the strength and reach of co-headship though. It started out with the usual emergency management challenges:

  • The only road to school closed to buses and cars at 3pm.
  • An Open Evening with just short of 2,000 visitors (our theatre only seats 750).
  • The Calorex broke down (yes, we now know what a Calorex is and that they cost £50,000 to replace).
  • Two broken limbs (not ours).
  • A science block that was keeping the neighbours awake with phantom whining noises.

And then, Covid-19

We have never valued our working partnership more. We were grateful for the ASCL Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education (www.ascl.org.uk/ ELC) – an initiative that we had both committed to. This guided us through our decision making, throughout the rapidly emerging complexities of taking a school setting through this national crisis.

The constant flow of government updates and guidance, the snap decisions, the responsibility for the health and safety of 1,780 students and 150 members of staff would have been a lot to bear for one set of shoulders, and we take our hats off to ‘single’ heads of standalone academies. At this time, we had the unique opportunity to talk to each other, as equals, in a way that a head and a deputy may not be able to do, often making plans well into the night after yet another unexpected turn from the government.

Identify the strengths

Through our experience we have identified the following strengths of the co-head model:

  • Speed and efficacy of decision making facilitated by having a ‘critical friend’. We were secure in our partnership, which allowed us to test each other’s thinking, trying to break plans to check for their robustness before taking them forward.
  • We took strength from each other, standing side by side as we made announcements to concerned and worried staff and students, knowing we didn’t yet have the answers to many of their questions.
  • Two of us gave greater reach – between us we could be all things to all people. The ‘head’ could literally be in two places at once.

As our time as co-heads has now ended, we can reflect. We are both strong candidates for sole headship, nonetheless our combined skills, experience, along with the mutual support we can offer each other makes co-headship the standout proposition for us. We were unsuccessful in our joint application this time, but we are not giving up. We urge the educational community to think creatively about leadership structures, to throw the door open to talented leaders who want to be better together.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ASCL is committed to supporting and promoting equality, diversity  and inclusion (EDI) among school and college leaders, and in our own organisation. Find out more at www.ascl.org.uk/EqualityDiversityInclusion

Abigail Boddy + Catherine Carré
Deputy Headteachers at Northampton School for Girls