First Step - It all falls into place

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Making good use of planning, preparation and assessment time is vital. Know your rights and get the support you need

For Conrad Watts, a newly qualified secondary English teacher in Glasgow, his planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) release time is essential. "I just wouldn't enjoy my job without it," he says. Mr Watts has about 15 non-teaching periods a week. A couple of these are taken up with departmental meetings and additional pupil support classes, but the remainder is up to him. "I use them for lesson planning, filling in my GTC profile, meeting once a week with my tutor and observing other classes. As well as those necessary trips to the staffroom for tea."

Headteachers have a duty to ensure that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are given a 10 per cent reduced timetable to allow for their induction to take place, as well as the 10 per cent standard PPA time for other teachers. According to the NUT, this time should be in usable blocks - not less than half a day - and timetabled well in advance to allow planned use of the time. The union also warns against allocating this time so that it results in an increased teaching load for other teachers and advises that time is covered regularly by the same experienced teachers so that pupils' learning and good standards of behaviour can continue.

Jennifer Day is a primary NQT in Bicester. Her headteacher has organised a regular supply teacher to cover alternating mornings and afternoons on a Friday, and she has a number of half-hour slots off throughout the week. "I quite like it. It is handy to have a little bit day to day," she says. "I spend a lot of it planning, often with a colleague who is off at the same time as me. My housemates are NQTs and those who have a whole day seem to waste it."

Marking, planning and discussing targets for individual pupils will take up a lot of time for any teacher but, added to this, NQTs should be observing other lessons, getting feedback on their own lessons from their induction tutor and evaluating their development. "I think it's important to have that time to reflect," says Mr Watts. "It means that you will be more secure in your job and in your abilities."

Elizabeth Holmes is the author of FAQs for NQTs and The NQT Handbook. "(PPA is) a good way of looking at how you're meeting the core standards in line with your continuing professional learning," she says. "You need to have that time for your own reflections as a teacher so that you become a reflective practitioner, as well as to discuss your development with someone else who has observed your lessons so that together you can plan your personalised development activities."

Although Ms Day is occasionally asked to help out in school during her release time - "just random things, like putting up display boards" - she is glad of the supportive management. Unfortunately some NQTs are not so lucky. Several threads on the TES web forums detail concerns about timetables. One poster wrote: "I've gone four weeks with no time now. My headteacher would rather I do it in blocks," while another was concerned that they weren't getting the full 10 per cent.

Ms Holmes has also worked as an agony aunt for and receives queries from NQTs who don't get enough time or whose time isn't organised in a productive way. "Extra time is not optional: it's questionable whether NQTs can complete the induction without it," she says.

Not getting your allocated time may be purely because management is unaware of any problems, particularly if you are working in a large school. It may just be a question of drawing their attention to the problem. "Initially, deal with it in-house," says Ms Holmes. "Take it to your induction tutor or a trusted colleague and make sure they are aware of it. If it continues, get in contact with the induction representative at your local education authority."

Your NQT year can be difficult and challenging, but Ms Holmes says this can be good. "There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but everyone needs that extra time to feel supported as well as challenged for their personalised development."

- Next week: Being observed


- The 10 per cent guaranteed PPA time is a minimum figure, and if you receive more than this, you may be protected against having it reduced.

- PPA time is part of your "directed" time at school so you may need to stay on the school premises. Understanding heads may agree to reasonable requests to carry out PPA work outside school if appropriate.

- Teachers receiving PPA should not be burdened with planning and marking work during that time, nor should they be expected to deal with immediate discipline problems.

Source: NUT guidance.

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