'Given the staff and time, we'll deliver'

25th April 2003 at 01:00
With job-sizing and new school management structures being set up under the national agreement, primary headteachers are desperate for greater support, writes Raymond Ross

Everyone comes knocking at the headteacher's door in a Scottish primary school. In a single day he or she may be an educationist, counsellor, social worker, janitor, first aid nurse, clerical assistant, support teacher, break-time supervisor, nursery manager and school manager.

"We carry so many responsibilities in our remits that they can't possibly all be done," says Kay Hall, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland and the head of West Kilbride Primary in North Ayrshire.

"In one day we hurtle from giving out toilet rolls to resolving social issues," she says.

The general picture emerging from what primary headteachers are saying is that the workload is just too much. As one with 20 years of experience puts it: "I'm glad I don't have a young family any more because I'd never see them."

Morale among colleagues, he says, concerns him. "There has been a lot of stress-related illness over the past two years and I've seen many of my colleagues - both men and women - in tears."

He warns that if nothing is done, the future may prove bleak.

"There's going to be a massive exodus from teaching soon. The baby boomers are all reaching retirement age. Most of my staff are in their 50s. That means opportunities for young people.

"But a lot of teachers now are only prepared to go to depute head level.

They won't go for headships because you're on your own and the buck stops there.

"There's just too much pressure on headteachers to make the post attractive," he says.

Given the broad remit of primary headteachers, the core of their complaints is lack of management support and there is widespread desire for parity of treatment (as well as pay) with secondary colleagues.

"Many heads manage schools with the barest support system possible," says Ms Hall. "We have meagre management teams despite having a curriculum which is equivalent to the secondary sector.

"Our support systems are crucial and demanding and are still dependent on huge personal and professional commitments, as opposed to adequate resourcing.

"We have complex schools in which all the problems of society are reflected. Our children are immature and need support to develop and yet we are not allocated management time. Any non-contact time must be clawed out of the staffing allocation."

"The restructuring of management within primary schools is long overdue," says one headteacher. "I hope we will achieve parity with secondary schools, where it is acknowledged that management time must be built into staffing levels so that people are given time to do the jobs they are paid to do.

"In primary schools, many of the tasks have to be undertaken in time outside the 35-hour week, as time spent in schools is taken up with pupil and parent contact.

"In the recent job-sizing exercise it was not acknowledged that curriculum development and its management was a large part of the head and depute head's remit, while in secondary schools there was an understanding that each area of the curriculum needed careful management in its own right," she says.

Ms Hall believes the recently released money for post-McCrone developments gives local authorities an excellent chance to address some of the "desperate management issues" in primary schools.

"I have heard it stated many times now that there is a commitment to parity between the sectors. Let's start seeing it in establishing management teams and in the resources allocated to pupils," she says.

Taking into account the diminution of principal teachers in secondaries, she reckons that under the logic of secondary management structures her school would require two depute heads (one for nursery and one for learning support) and eight principal teachers in order to manage the curriculum and implement the new strategies which are being advocated nationally, such as drugs awareness, sexual health, healthy eating, sports and community schools.

Initiatives can be a source of sometimes extreme stress for many headteachers, not simply in dealing with them administratively and implementing them but also, as one head puts it, in filtering them to keep staff moral up. The Scottish Executive needs to slow down its initiatives, he says.

Another headteacher says: "National and local authority priorities are decided with little thought of implementation in what is already a very crowded curriculum.

"HM Inspectorate of Education still insists on appropriate balance of the curriculum without taking into account physical education initiatives, health initiatives, citizenship initiatives, information and communications technology initiatives, science initiatives I All are extremely valuable in their own right and well worth the effort, if we had the time.

"The head's duty in all of this is to be aware of workload for staff, to take pressure off them and in some cases hold back the tide, to try to implement all these worthy initiatives within the present curriculum so that they are not seen as additional but integral to work already in progress. That's no mean feat!"

A teaching head in a small rural school argues that the Scottish Executive Education Department needs to pace initiatives and perhaps take a leaf out of the local authorities' book by making three-year plans. She believes there are already too many subjects (22) in the primary curriculum and would like to see a faculty system operated, based on primary stages rather than curriculum areas, though the latter may be useful for specialist subjects such as art.

Her school has 60 pupils (plus a nursery) but she has no management structure, "not even a senior teacher". The school doesn't even have a janitor. She works "never less than 50 hours a week" and is constantly "battling" with new initiatives.

"I love my job but feel under tremendous pressure," she says.

Being a teaching head is "reactive rather than proactive", she says, and because of lack of cover she is 0.4 (two days a week) teaching when she should only be 0.3. "No matter what anyone says, there is a teaching shortage," she insists.

Organising or covering classes for absent colleagues is a big issue for many primary headteachers. One even speaks of supply teachers being "absolutely in a monopoly situation" and agreeing only to go to certain schools or cover certain classes.

Continuing professional development under the post-McCrone agreement is also raising management concerns.

"We are being asked to implement the CPD initiative and manage this without a personnel department," says the head of a primary school with a roll of 240 (plus a nursery). "No additional management time has been given to plan and implement both CPD and the reduction in classroom contact hours," she says.

And then there is the paper work.

"It's difficult to keep your head above water with the duplication of paper work to the SEED and so on. I'm virtually tied to my desk during school hours and don't get enough time to do classroom observation and such like," says the head of a primary of 245 pupils.

"What I'd most like is a bursar to deal with finances and administration, to chase up plumbers and - oh, yes - to get the holes in the Tarmac sorted."

Ms Hall says she has "a compost heap of documents and papers which I will never reach" and has to be ruthless about the priorities in which she becomes involved. "I am deeply resentful of those who require me to complete pieces of work which are pointless, and there are still many paper-driven exercises which appear to me, and to colleagues, as fairly pointless."

None of the primary headteachers said they hated their jobs. Some said they loved them in spite of the workload and attendant pressures; but quite a few were fearful that post-McCrone developments would only add to their woes.

Ms Hall, however, remains upbeat, while asserting that something must be done to relieve the workload. "I believe the job of primary head has the potential to improve because of the McCrone review.

"I do not believe that exhausted people can give of their best. The workload issues need addressing," she says.

"People's quality of life and the health of individuals must be of concern in any caring community. Surely schools should be front-runners in this area.

"We are working with society's most valuable asset: its children. Let's give them an inspired and enthusiastic workforce, not one that is stressed out with the ever-increasing demands of national priorities; demands which are always in addition to the current workload, not instead of certain aspects."


School roll: 318 (238 primary with 4040 nursery class) Headteacher's length of service overall: 31 yearsLength of service at present level: seven years

The headteacher says: "An average day will expect me to do the following: 8.30am locate cover for absent teacher; review class planning to ensure smooth transfer to supply teacher; reassess internal cover until supply teacher arrives; deal with early morning disputes between pupils; be available for any teacher concerns9.00 review previous day's building works and liaise with workmen on day's schedule 9.30 draft letter to parents on new health programme 9.45 write report on temporary staff and visiting exchange teacher 10.00-noon attend local authority policy planning meeting (arrive late) 12.30pm supervise lunches, deal with incidents, interact with children1.15 monitor learning and teaching as part of planned monitoring programme 1.45 deal with behavioural problems, council child, resolve difficulty2.15 meet the parent with regard to concerns 2.45 write up monitoring report 3.00 give feedback to teacher 3.15 in-service talk to staff on continuing professional development initiative and reduction in class contact4.15 deal with mail, reply to Scottish Executive education department requests, sign letters, sign wage authorisation, sign invoices, sign cheques 4.45-5.30 read and reply to e-mail, log on to SEEMIS system to check pace of learning with regard to national testing 7.30-10.30 begin to write school plan and standards and quality report.

"What have I not done on this particular day? Been involved in CPD interviews; taken groups of children in a team teaching situation; monitored forward plans; taken parents' workshops meetings; been involved in reviews with social workers, the reporter and psychological services; written reports on children requested from different agencies; read the numerous reports from the Scottish Executive and HM Inspectorate of Education; attended headteachers' meetings to keep up to date with developments; audited resourcescurriculum; balanced the finances, mentored staff; amended policies to reflect current practice; implemented community school initiatives; dealt with information and communications technology hardware problems I the list seems endless.

"Given all of the above, why do I continue to do what seems to be an impossible task? The job is stimulating, varied, challenging and, done properly, has an impact on future generations of young people.

"I love doing what I do. I can only ask that others appreciate that I am a manager with a teaching specialty who would like the time and back-up to do my job to the best of my ability. This means I must be taken out of the staffing ratio and my management team must be given time to manage.

"Pupil:teacher ratios are skewed by the fact that all managers are included. Only those teachers who have a register class should be included in these figures.

"Give me the staff and the time and I will deliver. Under the present circumstances I may just burn out long before retirement age, as has been the case with many of my colleagues.

"If priorities are important enough, then the will must be found to support those whose job it is to deliver those priorities."

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