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And about time, too

ppa time: All school teachers are now afforded the right to free periods

For the first time, teachers have the right to free time in the school day.


It's not such an issue for secondary school teachers because they've had a history of having free periods, but it's a radical change in primaries.

Many are finding it a wonderful opportunity. Petal3, a poster on The TES website who is in her second year of teaching, says her PPA time has made a huge difference: "I work through lunch then have my two hours PPA and stop about 4 or 4.30pm. The difference to my Sundays is unbelievable."

PPA stands for planning, preparation and assessment, which in itself is shorthand for planning and preparing courses and lessons, and assessing, recording and reporting on the development, progress and attainment of pupils. PPA time has come about as a part of a package of measures set up to address teachers' workload - the main reason cited by people leaving the profession.

Several pieces of research found the same picture: teachers working an average of around 52 hours a week - more than double the time they spend teaching. Since September 2005, all teachers must have 10 per cent of their normal teaching time free for planning and preparation. This is on top of other measures, such as the fact that teachers shouldn't have been doing 24 administrative tasks (photocopying, display, collecting money, and so on) for the past two years.

And what are the rules? Everyone should have a copy of the current school teachers' pay and conditions document, with paragraphs 76 highlighted because there is a great deal of confusion about the rules, and this is where the snags start. Here they are:

* 76.2 PPA time shall amount to not less than 10 per cent of the teacher's timetabled teaching time.

* 76.3 PPA time shall be provided in periods of not less than half an hour during those parts of the school timetable in which pupils are taught the core and other foundation subjects or religious education.

* 76.4 Such a teacher shall not be required to carry out any other duties, including the provision of cover - during PPA time.

So, assembly time doesn't count unless it can be packaged as a subject, or RE, and nor do slots of less than 30 minutes. Crucially, it shouldn't be cancelled if someone's absent, but what do you do if it is? One special school teacher sums up the dilemma: "We feel awkward about complaining. It feels 'ungrateful' somehow. Should we complain and muddy the lovely ethos between the senior management team and staff, or keep quiet? Frankly, I'd rather lose planning, preparation and assessment than risk losing our otherwise happy environment."

Certainly, losing this time seems to cause more bitterness than when everyone taught all day, every day: you've been promised a Ferrari and so are disappointed when you get a Ford Fiesta.

As Alan Standish of NASUWT Northamptonshire, says: "The law is clear, staff cannot be asked to cover during their PPA time, nor should they be expected to. Heads should appreciate the positive effect PPA is having on teachers."

Schools vary in how they organise PPA time. Some tried out different scenarios before the September deadline, others have had it in place it for several years, but one or two have yet to get it in place. One exasperated teacher confessed: "My head still 'working' on his brilliant plan to organise it and he would be very 'grateful' if we do not involve our unions as that just would add pressure on him."

There's no doubt that it's a logistical nightmare trying to balance the budget, give all teachers fair planning, preparation and assessment time and make sure pupils' education is not adversely affected and continues to improve.

Many schools have been wonderfully creative and are using PPA time to enrich the curriculum by, for instance, employing specialists in PE, music or drama. I saw a fantastic singing and music lesson taken in the hall where 90 children were fully engaged, having a great time and learning lots, while their three teachers planned.

Every minute counts, although some teachers have their planning, preparation and assessment time in bits - half an hour a day, or 40 minutes one day and an hour and 20 minutes another. Obviously, it's easier to get things done if your PPA time is a whole afternoon or an entire day once a fortnight. You can work where you like - at home, if the head agrees, which is a good way to avoid spending time sorting out problems because you look "free".

However it comes, make sure you spend planning, preparation and assessment time well - decide what you're going to get done and make sure it happens.

Time is precious and every minute counts if you're to make the job manageable.

See primary forum, main section, page 24 For further information, ara Bubb's Managing Teacher Workload (with Peter Earley) is published by The TES and SagePaul Chapman (17.99)

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