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Please release them

Primary head Val Woollven puts her case for a non-teaching deputy

Deputy heads don't have a lot of time on their hands, writes Val Woollven. First, there's "day-to-day management", a gentle phrase that disguises a multitude of tasks. Then there's the organising of supply teachers; keeping on top of assessment; contributing to performance management as team leader and monitor of effectiveness; overseeing discipline and behaviour; and offering support and guidance to younger teachers.

In addition, some deputies are responsible for lunchtime duties and assemblies, and often take responsibility for the Standards Fund - money diverted into budgets for school improvement.

On top of all this, the primary deputy's classroom is expected to be the hub of professionalism - tidy, stimulating and current. Oh yes, and when the head is away, the deputy becomes the public face of the school.

These duties are just illustrative, not exhaustive. But it does make you wonder how any one person can successfully fulfil this demanding role without release from the classroom.

Small schools (fewer than 200 pupils) are allocated money to give the deputy time for administrative duties. This is welcome if the release can be planned in advance. If schools can employ a regular supply teacher to cover for the deputy, so much the better. But good supply teachers are constantly in demand and often snapped up to cover numeracy training or school improvement courses. And the deputy must plan the lessons to be delivered by the supply teacher, which should mean a face-to-face chat the day before to ensure quality of delivery. Much effort is therefore expended to gain a day so that the deputy can work even harder.

So, what would a non-teaching deputy do? The list is as long as the piece of string that every good deputy keeps in his or her pocket in readiness for the conker season.

What the non-teaching deputy would not do is spend weekends planning lessons. Weekend duties would include reading all the documents passed on by the head so that senior management meetings can be spent in discussion and planning rather than rushed brieings followed by quick decision. Two heads would be better than one-and-a-bit.

In an ideal world, a non-teaching deputy would:

* patrol the school in the morning to welcome children and liaise with parents;

* teach the subject in focus on the school development plan to all classes so that he or she can assess progress;

* gather all the assessment data and produce meaningful statistics that will direct target-setting;

* prepare statistics for the governors and the local education authority with regard to the autumn package and the performance and assessment report;

* meet the head regularly to discuss the latest initiatives and prepare documents;

* phone supply teachers well in advance so they have the time to plan ahead;

* monitor planning (in consultation with the head);

* observe lessons as part of performance management (with the head);

* attend quality conferences and disseminate good practice to the staff;

* liaise with learning support assistants;

* be there and be available.

This is not exhaustive, but the thought of having the opportunity to share ideas, problems and excitement with an enlightened colleague, who has time and energy to spare, would be so welcome.

Meeting at 7.30am with a tight agenda is often unsatisfying and counter-productive. But there is no other available time if the deputy also runs after-school clubs and trains the sports team. And the head is constantly at meetings and case conferences and visiting other schools.

We all want more time. We all need purposeful schedules. Everyone deserves to be able to focus on the important issues when they arise. Deputies in primary schools are often burnt out before they can summon up the strength to apply for headships. Let's hope that an enlightened government can make a grant available so that non-teaching deputies are the norm in all schools with more than three teachers. Small schools should all have non-teaching heads.

Exactly what the head would be doing while the deputy is so busy is another story.

Val Woollven is head of St Andrew's C of E primary, Plymouth

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