Euphoria takes lots of careful planning

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh on the heads' juggling acts that make PPA work

For years, the idea of a substantial chunk of protected time for primary teachers to be out of the classroom remained a distant dream. Now, with the arrival of PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time, it is a reality. And on the TES website forum, among the reports of initial glitches, are some ecstatic posts, like this from "Louisea":

"Today I left school at 12.20, home at 12.30, lunch till 12.45 and then I got ALL my planning done plus a bit of literacy co-ordinator admin. What a great feeling, no planning hanging over me till Sunday, everything is put away in my school box till I pick it up Monday morning."

"Nicole K" follows this up with a description of what looks like a mountain of work done on a Monday morning, finishing with a cry of "Yay!"

Professional euphoria is not seen very often. I do not recall the same welcome for the national curriculum, for example. I feel bound to point out to Louisea and NicoleK, and all the other newly-liberated colleagues, that where PPA is working it is almost certainly due to a long and nerve-wracking time of worry and negotiation by the head and governors.

The basic management question is relatively straightforward. Do you believe that only a qualified teacher should be in charge of a class, and bear the budgetary consequences? Or do you go for something a lot cheaper, with teaching assistants?

Many schools, clearly, have gone the TA route. Lynn Cartwright, head at the Brook primary school in Dudley, for example, says: "We tried using TAs to cover classes in advance of the legislation. We found it much more seamless than using supply teachers - TAs know the children and what they should be doing."

With four TAs available at The Brook, one a higher-level assistant, there is the flexibility to have teachers planning together in groups. "The teachers like it," says Ms Cartwright, "And it's good to see them working all over the place with their laptops." Other heads, while wholly appreciative of the contribution of their trained TAs, feel that they cannot be used as teachers. At the 580-pupil Jesson's primary in Dudley, the governors decided that cover for PPA was to be in the hands of teaching staff, and have swallowed the cost of 2.5 extra teachers.

"Each of them, of course, is also entitled to 10 per cent PPA time," says head Lucy Griffiths. "It's like Russian dolls."

She has also recruited three NQTs this year for whom the non-contact-time entitlement is now 20 per cent - a day a week. "No wonder they're still smiling," she says.

At Canon Maggs CofE junior school in Warwickshire, there is also a "teacher-only" solution. The burden there is being carried largely by the deputy, the head and a senior "floating" colleague.

The penalty, in both these schools, is to take the budget up to the wire and also to reduce the kind of flexibility that is a hallmark of primary-school life.

At Canon Maggs, head Rod Steward applauds the recognition of teacher workload but clearly regrets that he is no longer quite so able to make the gestures that for him are the mark of a civilised management regime. He is now less likely - and less able - to cover for a teacher who is ill, or who wants to go on a daytime course or, at another level, to step in when someone wants to go to a funeral, or her own child's class assembly.

"I've always believed that family comes first," he says. "And I've tried to treat people as I want to be treated myself. I regret that I'm becoming a sort of time lord, with charts showing how much PPA time each person has had."

Mr Steward also foresees the fragmentation of the profession with the advent of layers of lower-paid assistants and "instructors".

"I've just seen an advert for an 'educator' on pound;16,000 to pound;18,000," he says.

Then he muses on how far the trend will permeate other professions. "When it reaches dentists, I'm in there," he says. "I fancy five years as an unqualified dentist. It will take me nicely from 60 to 65."

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