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Bring your dirty laundry to school

A service designed to relieve staff of household chores has led to increased professional and personal well-being. Phil Revell reports

Vanessa Fowler is getting ready to go to school. In the bag go the assessments and the lesson plans, her diary and "to do" list. Into the car boot goes the laundry bag, and she's ready for a new working day.

Laundry bag?

"A laundry service picks up and delivers back to the school," says Ms Fowler, a Year 3 teacher at Moat Farm junior school in Sandwell in the West Midlands. "It's one thing fewer to think about."

Moat Farm's laundry collection is one of a portfolio of services organised by assistant head Chris Garrett in an attempt to improve the work-life balance of people who work at the school.

Mr Garrett saw something similar on a visit to Corsham primary school in Wiltshire, then worked on the idea with the Moat Farm staff.

All the staff are given a glossy booklet that lists the services available.

They include car maintenance, car valeting, laundry, a lunchtime baguette service, Indian head massage, a clothing alterations service, stress and relaxation therapy and discounts at a local restaurant.

"Our philosophy is that while we work hard when we are here, we do need a work-life balance," says Mr Garrett. "We discussed this with the staff and then approached local businesses."

Those businesses have all been chosen on staff recommendation. The scheme has been running since last September, and so far the car valeting and laundry services have proved most popular.

"We've had a lot of positive comments from staff, and we trust it has an impact on their life," says Garrett.

"It's about lightening the load," says Vanessa Fowler, who has her car valeted once a month and also takes advantage of the daily baguette service.

"They are good value, freshly made. It's not always convenient to eat in the dining hall. I'm responsible for 30 children and I have to make sure that my work is ready for them. The laundry costs around pound;2-pound;3 a week. They do a much better job than I would do at home, especially the ironing."

Wright Wash is just down the road, in Langley High Street. Betty Woodhall had just expanded her business when the school contacted her.

"The head phoned and asked if we would be interested," she said. "We pick the washing up on a Monday and take it back on a Wednesday. I'm thrilled that we do a service for a local school."

The car valeting is done by Elite Cleaning, run by Emerson Currell. "It's bread and butter work," he says. "It's all ready for us: the money is ready, the keys are there with the number plate tag attached. For pound;18 we do what I call a maintenance clean. That's jet wash, polish, full vacuum and wipe down inside. On your drive that would cost you pound;30."

The school takes no cut from these services. Paula Anderson, Moat Farm's office manager, handles the arrangements.

"I collect the payments. It's part of my role as a school well-being facilitator," she says.

Work-life balance was one of the issues addressed in the remodelling agreement of January 2003. Since September employers have had to look at ways of improving teachers' work-life balance. For many this has been a headache as they pondered what to do to improve their colleagues' busy lives.

"Even before this came on the national agenda I tried to put things in place that meant teachers could concentrate on teaching," said Moat Farm's headteacher Chris Evans.

The school employs a supernumerary teacher to create release time for staff, and there are two part-time display assistants.

"We've employed a graphic artist and an art student. We increased the hours of some of our admin staff, including our typist, and we gave her some retraining so that she can now input assessment data," says Mr Evans.

It's difficult to quantify what difference this all makes, but the impact on well-being is easy to describe.

"I've got my Sunday mornings back," Mr Evans says. "I was the household ironer, and now I can either put my feet up or do some gardening."

Vanessa Fowler is just pleased to have a slightly shorter list of things to do each day.

"This makes a real difference. People forget that our working day doesn't finish at 3.15pm. Teachers are tied to the school during the daytime. In term time my home life goes on the back burner," she said.

And is there anything else on the Moat Farm service menu that might tempt her?

"Well," she pauses. "A beautician came into school just before Easter."

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