Cover we can do without

1st February 2013 at 00:00

When I was a newly qualified class teacher, I didn't have planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time. I arrived early for school, taught my class of 30 and had at least one day a week when I did two playground duties without anyone assisting me. I also had a lunchtime duty, after-school club supervision and no non-contact time at all. I planned and marked at home, and I can't say that I suffered - I remember only enjoyment from the job.

I expect I sound like your elderly relative telling you how he was caned mercilessly at school and it never did him any harm, or how in his day you could take a girl to the pictures, have a couple of pints, buy a packet of Woodbines and still have change from half a crown for the bus fare home. So I'll probably get shot down for heresy but I do wonder if PPA was such a good idea, especially after talking to a couple of headteachers who are having awful problems with it.

When it was introduced it seemed like a victory for the unions and a positive help for teachers. Every full-time class teacher would receive half a day away from the classroom, giving them freedom to catch up on marking, lesson planning, data recording or the preparation of lesson materials. NQTs would receive a whole day away from the classroom, as they were already entitled to half a day during their first year.

But many schools are finding PPA timetabling nightmarish. Cover has to be found for all these half days, which is fine if your budget is strong and you can find good supply teachers who want short-term work and a range of age groups. Even better if there are part-time teachers on your staff who are willing to divert to PPA cover, because they are a known quantity and can be allocated appropriately (although the fly in that particular ointment is that they are entitled to a percentage of PPA time themselves, so you have to find cover teachers for your cover teachers). And since school mornings are usually longer than the afternoons, people who have afternoon PPA tend to lose out. Not by much, admittedly, but I've known people to grumble about it. And where do you put your teachers on PPA? Space was always tight at my school and a teacher could wander around for half an hour trying to find somewhere peaceful to work.

Then there is the discipline issue. Nobody would deny that children are more challenging these days, and I haven't met a supply teacher yet who doesn't have a stock of hair-raising tales. A good class teacher establishes a strong and trusting relationship with a class, but many children are quick to take advantage when a stranger takes them for half a day each week. I've spoken to many teachers who have returned from PPA to find their classrooms in a mess. And consider things from the children's viewpoint, too. If they have an NQT taking them, and that teacher is also out on a course, they could be taught by somebody else for two days a week over an extended period. It doesn't help class stability and continuity.

If teachers weren't under so much pressure these days, with constant and unreasonable demands from senior managers right up to government bureaucrats, perhaps PPA wouldn't even be necessary and they could achieve a much better work-life balance.

And still have change for the bus fare home.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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