Is it ever OK to contact staff by email over the summer holidays?
My instinctive reaction is an emphatic “No, not under any circumstances!”
The summer holidays are, for most of us, the time to switch off from work and focus on life outside school.
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The intrusion of unwanted or unnecessary messages makes this much harder to do. Missives with questions that can’t be answered and information that can’t be acted upon are, at best, unhelpful.
Our focus on improving staff wellbeing includes a commitment to reducing unnecessary workload and to ensuring that there is good communication.
We want messages to get to the right people, but for no one to spend any additional time reading things that don’t concern them or won’t have an impact on their work with the children.
Because of this, we have a pretty strict term-time email policy, and try to make sure we send out whole-staff messages only once a week in the form of “Staff Notes”.
These take up one or two sides of A4 and consist of information about school improvement, wellbeing and safeguarding as well as reminders.
This strategy has drastically reduced the number of whole-staff emails; anything that needs to be said to an individual or group is communicated directly to people concerned.
Since that first reaction to the question of emailing in the holidays, however, I have had time to think and chat to some of my colleagues. We came up with a few circumstances when it would be reasonable and even helpful to receive an email from the senior leadership team during the school holidays.
These would, of course, be exceptional events – such as changes to staffing allocations that were unforseen before the school broke up for the holidays – and restricted to those people who needed to know the information.
There also has to be an understanding that the member of staff may not read the email as they may have decided to disconnect for the holidays.
A few years ago, for example, I got a message while driving through France that a teacher we had appointed to work in the school had been refused a visa and would not be joining us after all. I needed to let the rest of the year group know that their team would be different from what they were expecting.
Likewise, it can be helpful for people to know about changes to the personal circumstances of their colleagues and of the families of children in their new class.
These should be shared only with the permission of the people involved, and only if the information would be helpful before people return to school.
During the holidays, staff don’t need reminders about routines, or questions about individual children.
But an email to remind people about the agenda for the non-pupil day is probably useful a few days before the return to school even if it’s not particularly welcome.
Roy Souter is headteacher at Stoke Hill Junior School in Exeter