October 2018


  • Renewed optimism
    New terms always begin with a mood of optimism, says Geoff Barton. Even when we worry about results, about looming inspection or about setting achievable budgets and plugging unforeseen staffing gaps, there's something that makes education distinctively upbeat each September. More
  • Cuts - The real impact
    Following his open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton surveys the impact of funding cuts, highlighting examples from around England of how diminished budgets are chipping away at the very fabric of education. More
  • Best of both worlds
    Positioning teaching as a global profession could have a positive impact on the current teacher supply crisis, both at home and abroad, says Dr Fiona Rogers from the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). More
  • Girl power
    Former teachers Charly Young and Becca Dean founded The Girls' Network with a mission to inspire and empower girls from the least-advantaged communities and help them achieve their goals. Here, Charly explains how the network is helping to change the lives of thousands of girls across the country. More
  • A flexible approach
    Could flexible working provide a major boost in helping to retain teachers? Jack Worth, Lead Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at their latest findings and says school leaders and teachers need to work together on this. More
  • Double act
    Having survived their first year as Co-Headteachers of The Holt School in Wokingham, Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce reflect on one year in post in this unusual but not completely untested model of headship. More
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Having survived their first year as Co-Headteachers of The Holt School in Wokingham, Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce reflect on one year in post in this unusual but not completely untested model of headship.

Double act

How accurate were the advantages they predicted in their model? How well did they mitigate against the risks? And how many times were they asked who was really in charge, and what happens when they disagree?

How it all began

Our story began 18 months ago as long-serving senior leaders at The Holt when our headteacher announced to our surprise, her retirement. Once word was out, many assumed that one or both of us would go for the headship. However, inspired by co-leaders, especially women, in the business world, co-headship seemed like an obvious and more modern route to investigate.

Excitedly, we called the ASCL hotline to find out if there was precedence at secondary level for full-time co-heads as opposed to a job share. Coincidently, the call was picked up by an ex-headteacher who had been replaced by co-principals at Collingwood College in Camberley, a mere five miles away from us in Wokingham. He also told us about the model in place at Charters School in Ascot, again within ten miles of The Holt. Both sets of co-heads were extremely generous with their time and advice in helping us better understand and research the co-headship concept.

Our proposal to governors left no stone unturned and no risk unmitigated. Writing the document was liberating; it flowed so naturally that it was clear from that point that our combined synergies made for a good partnership… and so the idea that ‘two heads are better than one’ was born.

Having won over our Chair and Deputy Chair of Governors, Peter and Charlotte, it was then in their hands to convince the rest of the governing body that this was a serious and viable alternative to single headship.

We were interviewed alongside single head candidates and were successfully appointed on the strength of our proposal, joint application and joint interviews.

So, how does our co-headship work?

We have jointly taken on the role and responsibilities of a headteacher, alongside part of our previous deputy head responsibilities, thus moving from a structure of one head and two deputies, to two heads and one deputy. This makes the structure budget neutral.

Co-headship roles

Between us, we have covered the full extent of the role of an experienced and successful headteacher. While we both have deep expertise in our own fields (Katie as curriculum deputy and Anne as pastoral deputy), we also have significant experience in each other’s areas as a result of collaborative and strategic co-working as deputy headteachers.

Split of roles

We are able to split the role naturally yet our close collaboration at every stage ensures that we both have an overview of and an input if necessary into all areas.

We jointly lead on key aspects of school life, such as values and vision, governors, staffing, data, school improvement, self-evaluation, finance, school structures, outreach work and sixth form.

Katie leads on curriculum, teaching and learning, appraisal, timetabling and CPD, and Anne leads on safeguarding, pastoral, special educational needs (SEN), behaviour, admissions, and reviews and reports.

Then there are other aspects that we undertake together, such as speaking at school events, taking assemblies, meeting and greeting at parents’ evenings, meeting regularly with the chair of governors and line managing the SLT including the school business manager. And, lastly, there are tasks where we take it in turns, including writing the headteacher’s blog and chairing SLT meetings.

Strengths of our co-headship model

We have worked together for 14 years and know each other’s strengths and expertise. We share the same values and we both understand the school’s history and systems. As a result, we have achieved continuity in an upward way, similar but different.

We share the emotional burden that we believe would be overwhelming if carried solely by one head but manageable and shared if carried out by co-heads. The co-headship model allows for ideas, initiatives and key decisions to be tested, sounded out and sense-checked between each of us and so decisions are not taken unilaterally. Our professional dialogue results in better, clear-headed decisions that are in the best interest of the school.

As co-heads, we bring different perspectives on problems and achieve more creative solutions. Between us we know when to be passionate and when to be dispassionate, when to be clear and when to be ambiguous, when to delay and when to launch. At the same time, we are individuals and may have different insights on the same issues. We believe this cross-fertilisation of ideas results in more rounded and insightful leadership solutions and behaviours.

Our leadership bandwidth is doubled; we have twice the capacity to be visible and accessible to all our stakeholders – students, teachers, parents and the wider community. One of us can be presenting awards at an end of term assembly while the other is at a local federation heads meeting talking strategy.

Co-headship enables us to retain some teaching, which we love. We are both very strong teachers and it is important for us to continue to hone our skills in the classroom and to remain, to some extent, on the ‘front line’ so that we do not lose sight of the workload, pressures and strains of teaching. It allows us to see first-hand in the classroom, the impact of leadership decisions and education policy developments.

Potential risks

Of course, there are potential risks to the co-headship model, of which our governors were only too aware. However, the risks we anticipated we now consider to have been completely mitigated.

One year on

The model is working really well because we have the same work ethic and values. We are open and transparent in our thoughts and respectful of each other’s expertise and opinions. It also helped that we had a proven track record of working with each other.

The year has genuinely gone very smoothly; we have shared the joy (there have been many highs) and split the burden (there have been a few bumps along the way). However, the staff, students and parents have been incredibly supportive and we really couldn’t have hoped for a better first year. We love our job; it is all so ‘do-able’.

Risk mitigation strategies employed at The Holt School

RISK: The co-heads disagree
We have a proven track record of close collaboration and where views have differed we have always come up with an agreed solution. Our personalities are such that we don’t have egos and accept each other’s points of view and acknowledge where one has more experience.

RISK: Who makes the ultimate decision?
Both of us.

RISK: One of the co-heads is off work e.g. due to sickness or bereavement
The advantage of a co-headship is that we can cover for each other.

RISK: One of the co-heads wants to leave the co-headship
A written/contractual agreement has been drawn up that if one of us resigns, the partnership dissolves. We go back to being deputies on the scale point we were on when we became co-headteachers.

RISK: Collaboration can mean loss of spontaneity and decision making can be slower
Roles are split in line with our expertise and we are aware of the difference and impact of operational decisions that can be spontaneous and strategic ones that won’t be. As a result, some decisions can be made more quickly because of our bandwidth, but no decision has been slower. Sharing an office really helps.

RISK: Stakeholders play off co-heads
Close communication and a united front have ensured that we are seen as equals in the eyes of all stakeholders. We share our PA, who books in meetings with whoever of us is free and not whoever has been requested (although the latter has never happened).

RISK: Who is the accounting officer
Either of us – it is for legal purposes only.

Whilst we both have deep expertise in our own fields we also have significant experience in each other’s areas as a result of collaborative and strategic co-working as deputy headteachers.

Two heads are better than one: Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce have a deep expertise in their own fields (Katie as curriculum deputy and Anne as pastoral deputy), and also have significant experience in each other’s areas as a result of collaborative and strategic co-working as deputy headteachers

Anne Kennedy and Katie Pearce
Co-Headteachers at The Holt School in Wokingham, Berkshire