Heads long for more time out

4th May 2007 at 01:00
Stress and illness at an all-time high for school leaders, conference will hear

RECORD NUMBERS of headteachers claim overwhelming workloads in 70-plus hour weeks are leading to serious mistakes and illness, a UK-wide survey by Keele university, published today, reveals Two out of three heads say they have suffered stress-related illnesses in the survey of school leaders across England and Wales. Many also long for "time out" from ringing phones and endless initiatives.

Heads are supposed to get dedicated time in which they can shut the office door and focus on their primary role of leading the school. But one-third of heads receive none at all.

However, teachers have the luxury of 10 per cent planning and preparation time in their contracts to which they are legally entitled.

The damning findings have led the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which commissioned the survey of 985 school leaders, to push for legal protection for busy heads.

Paul Sunners, head of 46-pupil Nyland special school in Swindon, is behind the motion to the NAHT conference in Bournemouth, which began today.

He compared his school day to working in a hospital intensive care ward.

But there are also grave concerns in Wales that many heads are under so much stress that "they are about to leave".

Welsh inspectorate Estyn recently found that one-third of schools in Wales had little or no room for dedicated headship time, with many heads claiming they found it difficult to strike a worklife balance. But workload was not the only issue for Welsh representatives at the conference.

A motion by the NAHT Cymru also expresses opposition to proposals in a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers that school headships should be opened to people without qualified teacher status.

Dr Chris Howard, head of Lewis school in Pengam, seconded the motion after strongly opposing the move.

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, said that while the union realised the developing and changing relationship of school leadership, only qualified teachers would command respect - and resources - at the helm.

"The wider school teaching staff deserve to be led and to have their work monitored and evaluated by a leader with genuine experience of the challenges they face."

The workload survey of 985 heads also found that 48 per cent of them found it impossible to find a worklife balance; 75 per cent say their workload has increased over the past year and only 9 per cent work within the 48-hour working time directive.

"We know that some areas of Wales are already facing recruitment difficulties in appointing school leaders. Headship in these condition is simply not seen as an attractive career proposition," said Ms Brychan.

NAHT Cymru has also submitted a motion calling on the Assembly government to call a halt to the constant stream of whistlestop education initiatives, claiming few are "satisfactorily completed and assessed before the next one comes along".

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