5 phrases we need to banish from schools forever

There are certain words that have a pernicious negative effect on staff, says this teacher, so let’s stamp them out


Woman, with hands clasped over her mouth

We’ve all heard them. Maybe you’ve used them yourself. But we all loathe them. 

Here are five phrases to stop using – and alternatives that might be less annoying for the staff around you.

‘Thank you to those of you who have handed this in before the deadline’

Deadlines exist for a reason. This phrase puts pressure on members of staff who are working to the deadline you have set and prioritising their workload to meet it. It praises a practice that could contribute to poor work-life balance. 

Solution: Of course, send reminders, but don’t imply that getting something in just before the deadline means people are falling behind.

‘Can we meet at lunch/break/after 4pm?’

There is no expectation for a member of staff to participate in meetings outside of scheduled directed time (which should be published at the beginning of the academic year). Moreover, all members of staff are entitled to a reasonable break during the day. 

The NEU working time guidance states that: “Any teacher who works for more than one school session on any school day must be given a break of ‘reasonable length’ between sessions or between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm.

If they are happy to meet outside of scheduled directed time, then great, but asking in the first place puts undue pressure on that member of staff to agree. 

Solution: Rephrase it: “Is there a time that works for you this week to meet?” Ensure that minimal time is needed and reflect on whether the meeting could just be an email instead. 

‘Would anyone mind volunteering for cover?’

 The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions (STPCD) document states: “Teachers should be required to provide cover only rarely and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable.”  

Solution: If you must use staff for cover, ensure it is documented. This means that you can avoid asking the same people each time and grant pay back for their time at a later date.

‘I know this is your PPA time but...’

The STPCD clearly states that PPA time cannot be used for cover. PPA stands for planning, preparation and assessment – crucial elements required of teaching staff every day. Staff rely and plan for these to manage their workload.

Solution: PPA should never be taken. The NEU says: “Teachers cannot be directed to undertake any duty during their PPA time other than in emergency situations. PPA time must be clearly shown in every teacher’s timetable and should not be moved or cancelled.”

‘This would be great for your appraisal’

Appraisals should be personal and be agreed in the private, annual appraisal meeting with your line manager, reviewing what would benefit you most in your professional development.

This phrase is a way of putting pressure on staff, perhaps those less experienced, to agree to a request for volunteers and will likely never be a part of the annual appraisal targets.  

Solution: By all means ask for volunteers for things but stop the manipulative reference to the appraisal process.

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