Opinion: Getting the best for children is not achieved by stressed teachers working 16-hour days

18th November 2015 at 12:14
Teacher stress
I want teachers who are happy to be in my school working with our pupils, writes one celebrated head, and this is not achieved by burying them beneath a heavy workload

Whenever I read an article about education at the moment it seems to centre on the extraordinary stress teachers and headteachers are currently under. This is a situation that cannot go on.

I have begun to wonder whether we as a sector can actually do anything about this. Before tacking this huge problem, however, I decided I needed to find out whether my staff were experiencing the same pressure.

I was relieved that while many admitted to being tired, none felt they were under stress. Why I asked? “Staff feel supported and there is always someone to talk to,” one member of my staff told me, “so stress never builds up.”

As a head there are parts of the job I find taxing and there are parts I don't handle very well. However, I hope and believe my staff recognise I try to do the job as well as I can. This is my starting point. I believe the majority of teachers all strive to do the job as well as they can and that their first priority should be the children they teach.

Of course, more than many other jobs, teaching has its issues with workload. This workload is ratcheted up in three clear ways.

  • First, individual schools place their own demands.
  • Second, we have the stuff imposed by government (even though they are always saying they are trying to reduce this).
  • Finally, we have the inevitable self-imposed element resulting from the fact that the vast majority of teachers want to do the job as well as possible.

It is essential that schools recognise all three of these separate elements and do what they can to mitigate them. We must ensure the job does not take control.

As a head I always try to ask myself this question: "Will any increased workload make things better for the children in our care?" It is my job to also look at the initiatives, guidelines and Ofsted diktats we receive daily and decide if they are beneficial to the school. If not, we don't act on them. (One way we do this is by trialling things rather than constantly changing direction.)

I want happy teachers who want to be in my school working with my children to ensure they do the best they can. This is not achieved in my opinion by overloading them with jobs which are of no benefit to pupils.

Wanting the best for children is not achieved by working 16-hour days. Teachers need to be fresh, bubbly and enthusiastic with a life outside school. Part of my remit is to do whatever I can to ensure this is the case.

I don't have meetings for the sake of them. I don't do endless observations to keep them on their toes, or call them into my office for a lecture. I just talk to them about being a teacher, about their teaching, about their pupils and, of course, about themselves. I want staff to feel valued: just as I would like to feel.

I want teachers to arrive each day with a smile on their faces.

Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire

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