At Kington primary, we decided to view planning, preparation and assessment time, not as a problem to be overcome, but as a way to help us to develop as a school. We wanted to capture the children's interests, attention and imagination while ensuring a cross-curricular style approach to teaching and learning.
The aims were seemingly impossible - to re-develop the timetable in a way that takes into account: workforce remodelling; continuing professional development for all staff; creativity and assessment for learning; the development of what is distinctive about our school; the secret desires of the staff, parents, governors and children; and the current strengths of the school. And we wanted to make all these changes within the budget.
So how was it done? We have always wanted what's best for the children at our Herefordshire school, but we have really not been sure of what "best" meant for us. Then came the Primary National Strategy's Excellence and Enjoyment, which we read as an invitation to seek to establish what we stood for as a school, and we produced a wish-list for our future.
What was intended to be a simple mind-mapping exercise, highlighting what we would like to provide for the children had money been no object, suddenly became very revealing. We now had in front of us what could only be described as a school improvement plan, but with feeling.
We had managed to capture what is distinctive about our school without realising it. We asked all our staff - from the caretaker and the headteacher to the teachers, teaching assistants and governors - what they wanted, and we found that these aspirations often overlapped, and fitted with the perceived needs of the pupils.
We realised that the constraints of the curriculum had stopped us from offering a wide enough selection of interesting activities. So, in September 2004, we began an Enrichment Afternoon every Monday. The children were re-organised into family groups, bringing together youngsters from reception to Year 6.
We provided six activities: cookery, ICTdrama, dance, traditional local crafts, traditional games and ecology. The children enjoyed each activity for half a term and then rotated.
These afternoons have proved to be hugely popular with children and staff alike. And because we had nine teachers and six sessions on a Monday afternoon, it looked like the starting point for providing non-contact time for staff while actually enhancing the children's opportunities. It could even help provide career development.
Here's the really clever bit: in order to give all the staff their PPA time from the start of this school year, we decided to introduce a second enrichment afternoon - but with a difference. On a Friday the children remain in their year groups for a cross-curricular afternoon, again rotating round six activities each half-term.
The activities are cultureforeign language, music, sport skills, sports science, a debating society and producing a school newspaper. The sessions do not last for the whole afternoon. The school comes together in the hall for the final 15 minutes to participate in a whole-school debate led by that half-term's debating society.
Meanwhile, teachers can talk with the person who has taken their class and then plan for the following week. But - the really clever bit - the sessions have been created in such a way that a teacher who leads one of the enrichment sessions on either a Monday or Friday afternoon is released for the other afternoon for PPA time. The staff chose to lead sessions that enhance their professional development or require their particular skills or interests.
In fairness, it isn't quite as simple as it sounds, because in order to make it happen, we have had to employ two supply teachers for one day a week (both of whom know our children well). The cost has been covered through government and local authority funding provided for remodelling. As long as this remains, PPA for us will continue to benefit staff and children alike.
Other benefits of this system are: staff get to work with and get to know children across the school; children develop friendships beyond their own year groups; it provides chances for career development; the children are empowered and given more of a voice within school; it keeps teachers in front of classes, which means happy parents; it ensures that PPA benefits both staff and children; and it's great fun!
Everyone is pleased by the immediate success of PPA and delighted to see the children having such a great time participating in exciting new lessons. It is incredible that, after only a couple of weeks, it has become such an established and important part of our school life. Many have commented that they cannot see how we managed without it.
Perhaps we are unusual in that we were keen to be involved with PPA and remodelling from the outset but, as a result, they may well be at the centre of our school's new vision for a long time.
Colin Doctor is deputy head of Kington primary, Herefordshire