How often have you sat through a staff meeting thinking of all the things you could be doing if you didn’t have to be there?
We all know the grim facts: an average primary school teacher works between 54 and 60 hours per week. There is now evidence that increasing workload and working hours not only impede school improvement but also damage teachers physical, emotional and mental health. According to the NAHT headteachers' union, 66 per cent of school leaders said teachers leaving their schools gave workload and poor work-life balance as the first and second reasons they were giving up teaching.
Once, teaching was considered a family-friendly profession – now teachers leave citing heavy workload as incompatible with raising their own children. Sadly, I could go on.
Staff meeting madness
Which brings me to staff meetings. To be accurate, I shouldn’t be using the epithet "staff meeting" anymore – they’re called Professional Development Meetings (PDM) now, aren’t they?
It has occurred to me that time allocated to PDMs in my school is in fact quite significant – a total of 22.5 hours during this autumn term alone, 10 hours short of an entire teaching week.
Surely, these precious hours could be used more productively than sitting around doing things like flicking through each other’s books?
I think our time would be used better participating in an activity more specifically aimed at either developing individual professional skills or marking a huge pile of books.
Better uses of time
To be clear. It is not that I have anything against a maths book-look, or any other similar school team-working activity. My gripe is with the often ad-hoc aspect of this type of PDM.
During one meeting where it was a maths book-look, for example, there were no feedback sheets. Without a focused purpose, this meeting, like so many others of its type, was doomed to failure. My impression was that someone in SLT had slotted the maths book-look into the school timetable simply because there was an empty slot that needed filling on the PDM timetable.
This raises the following questions: who was this PDM for? Whose professional development was SLT specifically catering for? What exactly was the takeaway for each individual teacher?
It is worth noting that in a recent Twitter poll created by Mark Enser, 59 per cent of teachers polled agreed that "their school was driven by how things look to observers. By the appearance of improvement".
I have often heard it said that every school should ask itself a question: "Why are you doing this. Is it for the good of the school, or is it for Ofsted?"
If the answer is not the former, the school will not improve.
I believe that most of the PDMs we have in schools are more about what SLT thought looked good when filling a time-slot, rather than its being a properly useful school activity.
It is my view that PDMs need to be given much more of the careful attention teachers apply when planning lessons for their pupils.
What is the focused learning outcome? How should this PDM be differentiated for meeting individual teacher learning needs?
If class teachers did not apply these basic precepts when preparing a lesson, then surely it goes without saying, that the lesson would most likely fail some, if not all, of the learner needs.
If we journey down this road we find more useful questions: for example, is it necessary for all a school’s teachers to be present at the same meeting, doing exactly the same thing? Might it not be more productive to organise teachers into different training groups?
For instance, could SLT not have organised the science team and the English team to scrutinise their books for consistency at the same time as the maths team were scrutinising maths books? This would have reduced workload for all subject leads across the school and also given them an opportunity to share their expertise with other teachers requiring development within these subject areas.
A PDM organised this way would have catered far better in terms of meeting targeted individual professional development, and benefited the school as a whole.
Furthermore, it almost goes without saying that if SLT managed staff PDM time like this, there might be time left over for class teachers to attend to more mundane tasks, such as marking, assessment and data. Everyone's a winner.
The writer is a primary teacher and wishes to remain anonymous