`It's a time to make sure you're prepared'

10th July 2015 at 01:00
Whatever sector they're in, heads never take a full summer off. So just how much work will they be doing this holiday? We found out

In response to Nicky Morgan's recent Workload Challenge to tackle stress in the profession, the outgoing coalition government suggested that headteachers should "lead by example the professional conduct and practice of teachers in a way that minimises unnecessary workload".

How school leaders must have laughed at the idea that they were simply creating work for the hell of it. And, of course, there is the irony that many of their workload problems come from the government's constant changes of policy.

Yet school leaders do admit that there is an unfortunate tendency for junior colleagues to feel that if the boss is in school, they have to be too - however inaccurate that may be. You'd think that in response headteachers might avoid summer working, thereby safeguarding both themselves and their staff. But with concerns rife about accountability and the perceived pressures of Ofsted on top of government changes to education, it's easy to see why some might struggle to set a good example during the hazy summer days.

To find out how big a struggle it is, we asked four headteachers to give us an insight into their summer working plans.

The primary head

Sam Hunter, Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire

Sam Hunter works for a maximum of 10 days during the summer. Although she might do some extra work at the start of the holidays, Hunter always gives herself a three-week break in the middle. "Those 10 days will be shorter than the days I work during term time," she says. "I will probably do 10am to 4pm and then nothing in the evenings."

Most of Hunter's summer work will be based around preparing for Inset days and fine-tuning her school success plan. She will also do plenty of professional reading and spend time responding to staff questions about the new academic year.

She says: "I will spend one of the days in school throwing stuff out, too, as well as a day with my deputy head making sure that we are clear on our way ahead. But the more I can get done at the end of term, the better."

As far as Hunter is concerned, all this work is essential if the school year is to start smoothly. She devotes particular attention to anything she will do in front of her staff, such as leading Inset. "This is when they have a clear view to judge my performance. It is not the time to be winging anything," she says.

Hunter adds: "I do not think it is reasonable to expect not to work at all over the holidays. Teachers certainly should not be doing six weeks at full steam, but summer is the time to stop and reflect, and make sure that you and the school are ready to start again in September."

Approximate expected summer workload: 50 hours

The secondary head

Sam Northwood, Nelson Thomlinson School in Cumbria

Sam Northwood's summer workload peaks around GCSE and A-level results days, when he will spend four days in school supporting his administrative and pastoral staff. At the end of the break, he'll be back at school for two or three days before teachers return for their training.

"I'll be meeting with my senior management team to tie up loose ends and ensure that plans are in place to get us through the first few manic weeks of September," Northwood says.

On top of that, there is background reading to do and assemblies to prepare. "Naturally, I will plan some lessons too, because I teach, just like any other member of staff," he says.

If Northwood has a philosophy for summer working, it is to do whatever he feels is necessary to get his school ready for the new term. For example, he might spend a few days at the start of summer finishing off staff appraisals. Then, he needs to collate material for the school prospectus and proofread it before it goes to the printers in August.

Northwood's family accept that he will be busy on and off throughout the summer holidays, but he tries to mix and match work and leisure to make sure he can still spend time with them.

"As far as I am concerned, my summer work is essential for my peace of mind," Northwood says. "Nobody has told me to do this stuff; I choose to do it because I see it as my job."

Approximate expected summer workload: 144 hours

The special school head

Jarlath O'Brien, Carwarden House Community School in Surrey

Jarlath O'Brien is facing a lighter load this summer than in recent years. Two years ago, his school's entire lighting system was replaced. After a delay to the delivery of components, the project faced a tight schedule of completion before term started.

"Building and refurbishment projects of any decent size will almost inevitably take place in the summer," O'Brien says. "Headteachers need to stay on top of that to ensure the school can open safely and on time."

Last summer was not much better. The buildings might have had fully functioning lights, but the school was now in the process of converting to an academy.

"This meant phone calls and emails about lease plans and funding agreements were dealt with in places like my hotel room in Jersey, while my children were asking me to take them swimming, or in the chemist while I was trying to mime that I needed hay fever medication," O'Brien recalls.

Managing these processes was essential, but O'Brien admits that most of the work he will be doing this summer will be by choice. It will consist of catching up on leftover jobs, attempting to get ahead for next term and spending time reflecting on the direction of the school.

Although O'Brien thinks it is reasonable to expect headteachers to spend part of their summer break working, he says that unnecessary stress can be created by the timing of Department for Education consultations.

For example, the 2014 consultation on special educational needs and disability data descriptors was launched on 5 August and required replies from schools by 10 September.

"Name a school that can digest all that, hold meaningful discussions at senior leadership team level with staff and with governors, and then develop a considered response," O'Brien says. "Not possible."

Approximate expected summer workload: 70 hours

The FE principal

Alice Wrighton, Richard Taunton Sixth Form College in Southampton

Alice Wrighton's workload comprises a combination of ongoing business management functions, including finance, HR and marketing. The bulk of the work comes from the college's annual push for enrolment, which starts straight after GCSE results come out and continues until the start of term.

During this period, Wrighton and her team will finalise courses and conduct interviews with up to 700 prospective students. Since the reputation of the college rests on enrolment figures and results, this work couldn't be more important.

"In business terms, you can't just walk away at the end of term to enjoy a whole summer to yourself when you know you have a very critical time coming up," Wrighton says.

Summer offers a rare opportunity for Wrighton to sit down with her senior leadership team and discuss strategy without interruption. "The more accountable education has become, the more we need that space around term time to do quality control and important development work," she says.

Although Wrighton allows herself three weeks off, she says: "I am the chief executive of my college. I am running a business. How on earth am I supposed to run that business if I work for only 39 weeks of the year? It wouldn't be sustainable."

Approximate expected summer workload: 90 hours

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