The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Liz Murray

Flexible working in action: progress, challenges, resolutions and impact

In the third instalment of her blog series on making a job share work, Liz Murray reflects on progress made so far and resolutions for the year ahead. 

As readers of the first two blogs in this series will know, I'm a co-SENCO at a large state secondary school. My job share partner and I embarked on this new arrangement at the beginning of the academic year. Having not known each other previously, we've worked hard to be proactive and reflective in our approach to the job share throughout our first term. 

The start of term in January was a good time to reflect on our progress and plot our job share resolutions for the year ahead. To gain other perspectives, we invited a team member, the curriculum support manager, to give her thoughts and feedback too. Here I want to share some of those reflections.

What has worked well?

  • Developing clear organisational systems and tools such as a comprehensive SEND register
  • A strategic planning sheet which is revisited often (see my previous blog for detail).
  • A shared electronic calendar which demonstrates transparency of workload and enable scheduling when the other person is not in school.

Our colleague commented on our consistent approach and said that from her perspective, there was more 'SENCO time' than when it was just one person in the role. 

It should be acknowledged that we all feel we have a similar work ethic and have worked hard to build up professional trust

What has been challenging?

Our biggest challenge has been in the area of communication. We have a large caseload with more than double the national average of students with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) at our school.

While some issues can be planned for or are ongoing, others will arise in the working week that aren’t anticipated. 

Challenge 1: Dealing with single complex cases across the week and ensuring that we are all up to date if we need to pick up something that the other person has been managing.

Resolution 1: We will save important emails in folders on the shared area and have a spreadsheet of actions for individual ‘high tier’ cases.

Challenge 2: Communicating who has done what without copying each other into lots of emails. Ensuring that our handover meetings don’t get pushed off the agenda because of the many unpredictable situations that arise. While we recognise that urgent issues arise, when we don't have the handover meeting, there's a negative impact on the rest of the working week. 

Resolution 2: To move our handover meetings to the beginning of the day and set them in stone. We are also going to explore finding a space to meet where we are less likely to be interrupted.

Challenge 3: Other people's attitudes to the job share. Sometimes we sense frustration because colleagues need to work with two SENCOs. However, in reality, in most teams there are aspects of a role that get delegated (for example to a second in department, or admin assistant), so our situation isn't very different. 

Resolution 3: To present ourselves positively and continue to be as consistent as possible by using our organisational tools. We also pledged to increase joint communication on key issues with other members of staff and so have secured a slot to present to the senior leadership team this month.

Personal reflections

As the colleague with the most experience of the SENCO role, it's hard not to take sole charge of some of the more technical aspects of the role, such as responding to local authority consultation or applications for EHCPs. However, being 0.4 of the job share, I'm in school for less time. 

So while in the thick of the school day it may feel more efficient to take control, this isn't always manageable. Nor does it build in sustainability or develop my partner’s knowledge and experience.

We also need time for ongoing strategic planning which isn’t easy to fit within just two days in school.  Fortunately, our headteacher can see this too and so encourages us to schedule occasional additional overlap days for training and planning when required and is happy to pay for my time. In turn, I am happy to give this time as it allows us to continue to improve.

Positive steps – and a promotion!

Going forward into 2020, even with the many challenges that life in school brings, I believe that by working collaboratively and with a high level of professional openness and trust we will continue to improve. 

And, as a positive ending to this first, experimental term, we are being promoted onto the senior team to job share the role as assistant headteacher. SENCOs, onward!

A call to action? 

I hope that this blog series has provided some practical strategies for other colleagues working in a job share, and perhaps some inspiration for school leaders who previously may have dismissed a job share as too difficult to manage. 

We know that the recruitment and retention crisis is linked to the lack of flexible working options in education, and flexible working also supports a strong wellbeing agenda. 

Please do get in touch via @liz4885 if you would like to discuss this further or share experiences.

For more perspectives on flexible working in schools, tune into our wellbeing podcast on this topic. 

Catch up with the previous blogs in this series

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