How teachers can guard and make the most of 'gained time'

When Year 11 classes depart, a teacher's timetable can suddenly seem a lot more bearable. But using the time wisely takes planning, says Stephanie Keenan

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This is the time of year when we secondary school teachers with exam classes suddenly breathe easier, drop our shoulders and lose that 1,000-yard stare.  

Not only do we see the summer holidays approaching on the horizon like a cruise ship ready to whisk us to exotic locations (though more realistically, on a teacher’s salary, it’s probably a P&O ferry to a Brittany campsite), we also see some beautiful spaces appearing in our timetable, created by the departure of our exam classes.

Yes! Fist pumps are permitted. It’s the arrival of "gained time".

Long awaited, dearly cherished and the repository of all our hopes and dreams, gained time is all the optimism of September come early.   

Yet we know only too well that the best-laid plans can run through these holes in our timetable like water through a sieve. So here’s my take on how to guard your gained time and what to do to make the most of it. 

1. Don’t overestimate what you can achieve

Yes, you may have seven hours per week "free" now, but don’t forget this is the summer term: it’s event after event after event. The chances are you’ll lose days of the timetable to sports day, special assemblies, celebration this and enrichment that. It’s a great time of year for fun, but organised school fun takes time to plan and run.

Don’t forget either that gained time is not your little secret: some staff will hover like vultures over your dead time and claim it. Whether it’s suggesting support sessions for students, asking you to cover someone’s classes, signing you up for working groups or strategic planning meetings, the requests will flood in. So add up your gained time hours, then cut 20 per cent off for the time vultures.

2. Prioritise, plan and share the jobs

Gained time is an opportunity to make some changes, but you need to plan out what you want to achieve early. With colleagues, agree a realistic number of priorities that need to be addressed, then share out the jobs. Does marking and assessment need reviewing? Are there some schemes of work that are weaker than others? Do you need to look at continuity between key stage 3 and key stage 4, or does key stage 5 need your attention?

Rome wasn’t built in gained time – but you can lay some strong foundations.

3. Leave time for informality and serendipity

Teachers are under so much time pressure: I have been known to literally run around school (well, perhaps better described as a lollop or canter, depending on the shoes) in order to meet an obligation. We’ve all had days where we feel like we don’t have time to breathe, let alone eat or go to the loo.

Never feel guilty about using some gained time to get out of your classroom. Hang out in the staffroom, wander about clasping your tea and chat, chat, chat to your brilliant colleagues.  You will learn so much more from these informal conversations than a million pinged emails, bulletins or meetings. It will make you feel so good to connect with people face-to-face. You’ll think, "why don’t I do this more often?". Hold on to that feeling for September.

Stephanie Keenan is curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London. She blogs at and tweets @stephanootis.

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