Marking time refreshes staff

New primary timetable proves a hit with pupils and teachers. Helen Ward reports

MARGARET Litherland is incredibly busy. Her class of eight-year-olds at Langley junior in Plymouth is changing for PE, an older pupil has interrupted in search of the owner of a discarded school sweater, and she has a pile of marking to do.

"I spend three hours marking and getting ready for the next day's lesson every weekday evening," she said.

Civil servants are keeping a close eye on what Mrs Litherland does at home, because she is taking part in the pound;4 million Pathfinder project to reduce workload.

Last year, teachers at Langley junior worked between 56 and 60 hours a week. This year, head Debbie Fuller was given pound;162,317 to spend on teaching assistants, laptops, software and capital works.

Already teachers have benefited from four new teaching assistants who started this term. There is now an assistant in each of the eight classes.

Ms Fuller is determined that any reduction in hours is sustained when the money runs out, which is why her most ambitious project is costing next to nothing.

By rearranging the school timetable, cutting 20 minutes off lunchtime and adding five minutes on to the day, all teaching can be done in four-and-a-half days.

From January, Wednesday afternoons will be designated non-contact time, giving teachers a chance to prepare lessons, do marking or arrange meetings. Meanwhile, all 256 children will join mixed-age groups for activities from robotics to gardening.

The University of Plymouth, Sir John Hunt community college, Plymouth high school, Eggbuckland community college and local arts group the Barefoot Partnership have already agreed to take some courses.

"The secondary schools did not need much persuasion," said Ms Fuller. "It is positive for them in terms of looking at what is going on in primary schools and becoming more aware of children's abilities."

Ms Fuller is hoping to get 14 activities agreed by January. Ideas already include web design, dance, music, astronomy and financial management. Children will then tour a freshers' fair and choose a six-week course.

Ms Fuller said: "The Wednesday afternoon time will pay huge dividends. Teachers can meet in year-group teams and get paperwork done, thus reducing the time when they would be working at home. They will go back fresher each day than if they had been working late.

"And children will get the chance to shine. I hope that when they go back to class on Thursdays there will be a real buzz."

Year 6 teacher Richard Arundell said: "I think the scheme will help the school as a whole. Children will have a fantastic time and that will have a knock-on effect on their whole approach to school."

Parent Denise Rowe, who is in the third year of her BEd, said: "Teachers are here to teach children, not to do paperwork. This project is going to be worthwhile all round - the children will get activities they would not be able to access otherwise."

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