Ingenuity can win back time

Helen Ward & William Stewart

Turning assemblies into lessons in personal, social and health education, sending 11-year-olds to secondary schools and introducing multi-class music sessions - these are some of the ways schools are freeing up teachers to do their marking and lesson plans during school hours.

From September, heads will be required by law to give teachers half a day out of the classroom each week to plan, prepare and assess lessons (PPA time).

But many heads say they cannot afford to do it.

Most schools are likely to rely on teaching assistants to supervise pupils in PPA time, a solution suggested by the Government but opposed by the National Union of Teachers. Yet many schools are coming up with alternative measures.

Sheila Dentith, head of 230-pupil Welford on Avon primary, in Warwickshire, has turned a weekly assembly into a 30-minute planned and assessed lesson. By teaching all 190 pupils an aspect of philosophy, citizenship or PSHE, she frees up her seven teachers.

Teaching assistants take the pupils back to their classes and supervise writing activities and PE, covering a further 90 minutes.

She said: "Remodelling is not about heads taking on more. I'd have been doing an assembly on Friday mornings anyway, but assembly time cannot be used as PPA time, so we decided to make it a half-hour of taught time."

Larchfield primary in Maidenhead, Berkshire, has a budget deficit, but head Rob Howell still wanted all classes to be taught by teachers, rather than support or outside staff.

He is thinking about taking the school's 133 pupils himself in a half-hour music assembly each week, then taking them again for a design and technology session with the help of his deputy and 11 support staff. He might also merge his six key stage 1 and 2 classes into three on two afternoons a week, supported by teaching assistants, to release teachers.

"In a small school with a deficit budget it is incredibly difficult to be creative," he said. "We have got to remain flexible in case the curriculum comes unstuck."

John Gawthorpe, headteacher of Mayhill junior school in Odiham, Hampshire, also wanted to use qualified teachers for cover.

He earns an extra pound;30,000 a year for his school from the local authority by sitting on a schools' liaison panel.

He said: "We started giving people PPA time in January, using teachers to cover the classes. We said, 'Let's do it - and bugger the budget.' What some people have not realised is that it is as wrong and impossible to cut people's conditions as it is to cut people's pay."

Other suggestions for creating PPA time from the National Remodelling Team include: * sending Year 6 pupils to a local secondary school for lessons in modern languages * getting teaching assistants and learning mentors to take "circle time" to release the class teacher for 40 minutes; and * using a music instructor to lead large groups of pupils.

At its annual conference in Aberystwyth today, members of the Welsh teachers' union UCAC are expected to call for non-contact time for teachers in Wales to be postponed until sufficient funding is provided to cover it.

* Primary Forum 24

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Helen Ward & William Stewart

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