Heads tune in to a better work-life balance

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Secondary bosses work 7.5 hours less than a year ago, says pay review body. Delegating routine tasks means teachers should have time to be creative, but some jobs they are reluctant to surrender.

Wearing his gold and black Wolverhampton Wanderers jersey, Mike Griffiths will make the 150-mile round trip to watch his football team's home game tomorrow.

He will be so busy cheering for a Wolves win over Norwich City that he will not spend even a minute thinking about work. That will be almost as much of an achievement as the Wanderers winning the championship, given that he is headteacher of a 1,500-pupil Northampton comprehensive.

The School Teachers' Review Body's 2007 workload survey of 2,151 school leaders and teachers shows that only 7 per cent of secondary heads usually feel able to pursue personal interests outside their work.

The figures are better for classroom teachers and primary heads as they begin to reclaim their private lives from the demands of work.

Their working hours have been falling for the past five years because workforce reform has allowed class teachers to delegate time-consuming administrative work and spend more time preparing lessons.

Indications are that the benefits may now belatedly be reaching secondary school leaders whose working weeks had climbed to a peak of 65.1 hours last year. This year, the survey shows secondary heads are working 57.6 hours a week an amazing 7.5 hour drop from last year. Their deputies' working weeks have been reduced by a similar amount.

Mr Griffiths, headteacher of Northampton School for Boys, would certainly spend more than 70 hours a week on school business but then he does not count attending school jazz concerts and sports fixtures as work.

And he makes sure that his private time is his own, whether it's at a Wolves game or playing golf with his teenage sons.

"When I'm on the golf course, I'm not thinking about the next school improvement plan," he says. "I have enough difficulty hitting the ball straight as it is."

His union, the Association of School and College Leaders, is torn between hailing heads' improved work-life balance as a victory and urging caution lest it turns out to be nothing more than a one-year statistical blip.

Both the association and the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents mainly primary heads, have warned that reforms designed to make classroom teachers' lives easier have often added to heads' burdens.

The ASCL this year listed 50 government "initiatives" that schools are expected to implement. For every new one, the association suggested, the Government should get rid of an old one. Dr John Dunford, the association's general secretary, says heads will be required to implement the new national Children's Plan a strategy for eradicating child poverty and giving every pupil the best life chances which is to be announced in December, as well as curriculum changes. He suggests the Government could start by getting rid of the requirement for heads to prepare a "school profile", which he says parents do not even want.

The NAHT has also been waging a "war on bureaucracy". Its general secretary, Mick Brookes, says heads should resist filling out forms that are not mandatory and do not help their staff and pupils.

These campaigns may be helping reduce heads' workloads, but the Government has also assisted. The "support staff" supplied by the workforce reforms are not only teaching assistants but also financial managers and human resources specialists. And the Department for Children, Schools and Families is working with unions to prioritise the 50 initiatives, deciding which ones are mandatory and which can be left to a head's discretion.

Headteachers are not known as the world's best delegators. When the National College for School Leadership called for an end to the "hero head" model at its conference this year, several of the attending headteachers missed it because they were too busy on their mobile phones, dealing with crises back at their schools. Attempts by unions and the Government to reduce their working hours have been partially offset by teachers' refusal to relinquish some responsibilities, and their ability to find new work to fill up new-found free time.

Nonetheless, the STRB survey indicates that heads and teachers are now beginning to discover a work-life balance.

Mr Griffiths and his wife, who is a teacher at another high school, go swimming together about three evenings a week. Afterwards, they often return home to piles of paperwork.

But Mr Griffiths says the swim leaves them refreshed for a couple of hours' work.

"That's when I'll tackle the really mundane paperwork," he says. "At 11 o'clock at night, with a glass of wine, it's quite easy to chuck a lot of it in the bin.

"We like to focus on forms we think are important not those the Government thinks are important."


Primary teachers worked 51.5 hours a week, 16.6 of those teaching a class

Secondary teachers worked 48.7 hours a week, 18.8 of those teaching a class

Primary teachers spent nearly two hours a week on tasks such as photocopying, classroom displays, record-keeping and general administration most of which should be delegated to support staff

Women worked nearly an hour a week longer than men

Older and more senior primary teachers tended to work longer hours than their younger colleagues

Six per cent of primary teachers work more than 70 hours a week.

... and headteachers

Secondary heads' workloads have dropped from last year's peak of 65.1 hours a week to 57.6 hours this year

Nearly half of them feel they have enough time to do their job properly, but only one-third of primary heads feel the same

Though the 54.2 hours a week worked by primary heads this year is up slightly on the past two years, it has dropped significantly from the 58.9 hours they worked in 2000

Only 7 per cent of secondary heads felt their workloads allowed them to pursue outside interests, compared with a quarter of primary teachers and a third of secondary teachers.

Source: School Teachers' Review Body 2007 survey

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