Research completed by Marianne Coleman in 2002 indicated that only 60% of female heads were also mothers, in comparison to 90% of male head teachers. Following discussions at a recent Teach First ambassador roundtable event focusing on the barriers to headship, The MTPT Project have a suspicion that this tendency to ‘leave before they leave’ is the reason that many female teachers do not pursue school leadership positions. However, there are lots of women out there who not only balance and thrive in headship positions with young families, they also held these roles before and during pregnancy and maternity leave.
Continuing on from Rebecca Cramer and Angela Browne’s fantastic starting interviews, we now hear from Liz Robinson, co-head at Surrey Square Primary in London. Liz became a head teacher at 29 and was in post when she became pregnant with her first child. She returned to work job-sharing with long time colleague, Nicola Noble, who also took her first maternity leave at the same time as Liz. Her daughters are now 4 and 6, and Liz and Nicola have become nationally recognised role models in the world of co-leadership positions.
Liz has committed to sharing her experience of co-headship more widely, but how did she find breaking the leadership mould and continuing to pioneer in this field when job sharing at headship level is not a common scenario?
“We did our research first – talking to some others who were working in this way, to really understand the model and explore what the options would be for us and the school. We then talked to our chair and vice-chair first – we used this as a chance to surface issue, worries and risks, and then go away and do more work on them. They were very supportive from the outset, worries notwithstanding, and worked with us to find a solution which worked for everyone. It did take two attempts to get the full governing body to sign it off – we produced a number of documents to show how we had thought it all through and put things in place to mitigate the risks.
The staff were almost exclusively positive about the change; as a close head and deputy, the reality was not a huge change, and I think people were pleased for Nicola to have recognition. They were also pleased that it meant we were both staying for the longer term.”