Heads are too busy to think

Ofsted says that managers desperately need time away from daily grind to look at the bigger picture, reports Michael Shaw

This morning Carolyn Fayle will pop out for a brief swim then spend the rest of the day at home quietly making plans for her school.

Mrs Fayle, head of St Denys primary in Southampton, has been ordered by her governors to spend one Friday each month working at home.

But the 54-year-old knows she is a lucky exception.

The education watchdog Ofsted will today say that few headteachers get regular time off from the day-to-day running of schools for vital planning or strategic work.

Measures to improve the work-life balance of staff have made teachers and assistants more content but are failing to ease the burdens on many heads.

Ofsted has been examining the impact on schools of the workforce changes that have been introduced since a deal was reached in 2003 between the Government and key teachers' unions.

Inspectors found senior managers, particularly headteachers, continued to sustain a heavy workload and that some were working even harder.

Many heads in primary and special schools had taken on extra teaching or management work so their teachers could have have half a day a week to do planning preparation and assessment, which became compulsory in September.

But there had been little progress towards introducing time for the heads to step back from day-to-day tasks, such as managing behaviour.

Heads were supposed to receive dedicated headship time from September: periods when they could focus on leadership and planning. But the report said there was "considerable confusion about what it means in reality".

"Few headteachers have considered changes to their workload to take account of time that should be dedicated to leading and managing the school," it said.

"The vast majority work long hours during the week and at weekends and accept a heavy workload as part of their job."

The inspectors found most schools were starting to see how restructuring could go beyond cutting workloads and could improve the quality of education.

Measures stopping teachers from doing routine administrative tasks had freed them to focus more on teaching and learning and many were getting better at working with assistants in their classrooms.

But the inspectors also found that only a minority of schools were using funding to restructure their staffing creatively, and that the potential for technology to help had not been fully realised often because staff resisted using computers.

The report was based on visits to 78 primary, secondary and special schools between September 2004 and July this year, before the introduction of compulsory PPA.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the findings confirmed the union's concerns about its members' work.

"We are not just bleating when we say that the pressures on headteachers are stopping them from doing their jobs properly," he said.

Back at her home in Southampton, Mrs Fayle said she was relieved to get any time away from day-to-day management, even if it is less than half the time her teachers get for planning, preparation and assessment.

"I don't know any other heads who have this," Mrs Fayle said. "It's extremely useful to have the time to get on with the strategic work without all the interruptions and phone calls you get when you're at school.

"It's not an extended weekend - I get so much done I'm usually exhausted by the end of the day and forget to have any lunch."

The St Denys scheme is also unusual because it was suggested by the school's governors. Ofsted criticised governing bodies in its report, saying that too few took an active role in reducing staff workloads.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

Leadership 27, 28, 30 Remodelling the school workforce is at www.ofsted.gov.uk

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