The Big Decision

Former Director of English, James Ashmore (@ashmore_edu), SLE, education consultant and father of three talks about how taking shared parental leave benefitted the careers of both him and his wife, and improved the wellbeing of his whole family.

I’ve been determined for some time, not just because of my own personal circumstances but also those of many of my friends, to champion flexible working and accommodate all staff taking or returning from parental leave.

Back in 2013/14 I took November to February off from my role as Director of English to look after my first child, Honor, while my wife, Louise, returned to work as Deputy Head of a large Secondary school. This had actually been suggested by my headteacher, Jane Acklam (now CEO of Moor End Multi Academies Trust, and for whom Louise and I now work – more on this later), and was really made much easier by us being an Academy – the guy in finance was able to give me a full breakdown of my expected earnings over my paternity leave, including how much tax I would have to pay.  This is in stark contrast to a local PE teacher friend of mine in an local authority school who has also taken shared parental leave – the local authority could not cope with the concept at all!

During the middle of my leave, New Year’s Day in fact, we made the decision that I should give up work entirely.  Louise at this point was four months pregnant with our second child, Arthur, so when I returned to work in February, I broke the news to the Head – and she was brilliant.  She totally understood, had been there herself and was very supportive. We had (have!) a really strong working relationship and it was obvious even then that she wasn’t just going to wave me out the door forever – she even suggested calling it a “career break” so that I would definitely come back, but I said “no” and wanted to keep my options open.

Between August 2014, when I finally left full time teaching, and now, I’ve done all sorts – stayed on as an SLE with the Pennine Teaching School and did odd days here and there (when grandparents could look after the kids), co-written a book in the evenings when the kids went to bed (The New Middle Leader’s Handbook for John Catt Educational), continued to run training for ASCL, and then came the big decision last October…

Louise was on maternity leave for our third child, Evie, and really, really didn’t want to go back to full time Deputy Headship, so we decided to gamble and go it alone – we set up our own consultancy business, called up people we knew (including Jane Acklam who employed us both, one day per week each as School Improvement Advisers for the MAT – this has expanded to two days a week each from September, and we are now well established as part of the Academy Effectiveness Team), and set to work ensuring the kids weren’t going to go hungry.

Our parents thought we were mad, but it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We basically ensure that one of us is always at home for the children. Honor starts school in September, Arthur is at pre-school and Evie just turned one – so that’s three kids aged 4 and under!  It’s been bloody hard going, but in terms of all round well-being, it’s changed our lives.