Friday freedom

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Councils all over Scotland are facing a challenge recruiting and retaining new teachers.

Three years ago, I was a newly qualified teacher. Recruitment did not seem a high priority for my local council's education department. So I applied elsewhere.

West Lothian Council was particularly appealing. The representatives to whom I spoke at the Jordanhill recruitment fayre seemed very enthusiastic about employing, retaining and supporting the professional development of newly qualified teachers. I was quick to apply and, within weeks, I was interviewed for three separate permanent teaching posts in West Lothian secondary schools.

The four and a half day week, I have to admit, was not a deciding factor in my acceptance of a job there. Indeed, the prospect of an 8.35am start seemed far from appealing to a west coast, non-morning-person. However, I was soon to discover the benefits of half day Fridays.

Finishing at 12.30 (or thereabouts) on Fridays inevitably helps one's energy levels. The level of challenge, preparation and correction required in the job (especially for one new to the profession) is tremendous - more often than not eating into one's evenings. Having a Friday free enables teachers to plan ahead effectively for the forthcoming week.

Time-consuming menial tasks, such as photocopying, requisitions, and so on, can easily be completed without pupils around - in the sanctity of a deserted school building! Deserted? Well, yes, often it is.

Friday relaxation and family time is a very popular option. Pupils, I'm sure, benefit from this too.

And, although many of them do use Friday time to attend study support or get on with revision, many more enjoy the opportunities it gives them to spend time with family and friends, or to engage in social, team-building activities such as sports and clubs (school-run or otherwise).

Inter-school rugby and football matches and training on Friday afternoons ares particularly common in West Lothian and, I believe, bring huge benefits to those pupils involved.

As for staff development, West Lothian runs an extensive programme of continuing professional development courses on Friday afternoons throughout the session, making it easy to complete one's required hours in this area.

And occasionally we have in-service or department time on Fridays, too - at key points in the year.

Personally, I don't think I could return to a full five days of teaching.

I, like most of us, still manage to put in well over 35 hours per week. But I value the opportunity that these few gained hours give me to make professional and personal decisions about the use of my time and energy.

If councils are to face up to the 3Rs - recruitment, retention and retirement - this is an opportunity they may have to consider providing for many more teachers.

Frank Boyle Teacher of English Broxburn Academy, West Lothian

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