Leaders in an hour of need

25th November 2005 at 00:00
While guaranteed hours for planning and preparation has eased the burden on teachers, it is piling the pressure on heads, many of whom cover for their staff. Martin Whittaker reports.

All headteachers are now entitled to so-called "dedicated headship time"

during the school week. "Heads must have dedicated time to lead their schools, not just manage them," says the national agreement on workload.

But many primary heads are not getting it, says the National Association of Head Teachers.

While guaranteed 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time has eased the burden for teachers, it is increasing the workload for heads and senior management teams.

Many heads are foregoing their own dedicated time to cover their teachers'

PPA time, says the NAHT. "Why on earth we didn't sign up to a statutory arrangement for the leadership team to have 10 per cent time as well I do not know," says Mick Brookes, the union's general secretary. "Because it's advisory it's tending not to happen. And that is driving many of our colleagues to the wall."

He says the problems of giving teachers more time out of the classroom has been exacerbated by the demands of major new initiatives this term, leaving many primary heads struggling to cope.

Mr Brookes succeeded David Hart as the NAHT's general secretary in September, swept into office by members who were worried that they would not be able to afford to implement the final phase of the workload agreement.

Earlier this year the union pulled out of talks and refused to sign up to the agreement. And in July, Mr Brookes warned of trouble ahead, as primary heads faced mounting workloads and anxiety over the cost of implementing PPA time.

Now after meeting heads throughout the country during his first few months in office, Mick Brookes says his worst fears are being realised. "Our insurance providers are looking at a huge rise in stress-related absence of heads in particular, who are simply saying, 'I can't do this any more,'" he said.

"That's extremely worrying, and what's more worrying is the reaction from the Government, which is extreme complacency, as if it doesn't matter."

An NAHT survey among its members in Hampshire has found that 80 per cent are using their school budget reserves to provide teachers' PPA time, while 20 per cent are in deficit.

"There must be a crunch time," says Mr Brookes. "We're either going to get some acknowledgement that the reason the NAHT walked out of the agreement was valid, or we're going to find school budgets are blown big time, or we'll have more and more people just walking off the job."

There is also concern that this will worsen recruitment and retention of heads - a market already described as in a "state of crisis" by Professor John Howson of Education Data Surveys. His recent research found that 37 per cent of primary headships are having to be readvertised because of a lack of suitable candidates.

Mick Brookes' own former school, successful Sherwood junior in Warsop, had to advertise twice to fill his post and only received three applicants each time.

John Peck, head of Peafield Lane primary school in Mansfield, has his deputy and a part-time teacher covering for staff taking PPA time and has had to employ another newly- qualified teacher. "It's working very well,"

he says. "But if you ask if it is sustainable in financial terms then the answer is no, it's not. It's extremely costly and government funding nowhere near covers the cost of sustaining this long term."

He is covering the extra cost out of school reserves. "I think we will probably be able to go another year. But the following year, I think that will be crunch time."

Mr Peck says fellow heads are buckling under the strain of initiatives. "My workload has never been larger. And almost every head in the country will tell you exactly the same.

"Teachers have a smile on their faces. There's no doubt that PPA time is extremely beneficial to teachers and heads have never opposed that. They have always wanted them to have a similar amount of time to their secondary colleagues. But many heads are trying to patch this up by covering it out of their budget, but also in many cases, trying to meet some of the PPA time themselves."

David Fann, head of Sherwood primary in Preston, covers Lancashire, Blackpool, Blackburn and Rochdale for the NAHT.

He says many of his colleagues have used a large proportion and, in some cases, all of their budget surpluses to pay for PPA time.

And as schools struggle to pay for cover, heads - particularly in small schools - are having to provide it themselves.

"We ran a small conference in Lancaster last week with 25 heads there," he says. "Nearly all of them had increased their teaching load, some of them by as much as a whole day.

"I think the concern for a lot of heads was, yes, we know the teachers are benefiting, but are the children? Heads have to maintain standards, and if we say to people I'm going to teach your class on a Wednesday afternoon, as a head, sometimes we get interruptions. And then what do we do? We get someone else in who is neither the teacher nor the head, and standards do fall."

Another concern for primary heads is that teaching assistants are being taken away from working with small groups of pupils with special needs to cover for teachers doing PPA time.

Dr Rhona Tutt, immediate past president of the NAHT, says: "Obviously, we are all behind teachers having PPA time - that's absolutely right. But we're concerned that it's being done either at the expense of heads having to work to cover it, or in help being removed from pupils with special needs.

"If there was sufficient funding there, it wouldn't be a problem. But some schools can only do it by making these kinds of manoeuvres to make the books balance."

Ministers allocated around 1 per cent to the average primary school budget to fund the cost of extra cover. But the NAHT says this has been totally inadequate.

A TES survey of 545 heads last term found that although 88 per cent said they were able to provide cover in the classroom this year, only 20 per cent felt confident they would be able to do the same again next year.

Teachers' entitlement to planning and marking time has also come on top of a range of other initiatives, including the new inspection regime, a review of their staffing structure and new teaching and learning responsibility payments.

The Secondary Heads Association says it is getting similar messages from its members. Assistant general secretary Bob Carstairs said: "The basic message is that it's helping teaching staff quite a lot and is seen to be a good thing. What's happening is that the heads aren't getting their own PPA time."

Where do governing bodies stand? From September, they became responsible for ensuring that dedicated headship time is built into the school timetable, and then monitoring to ensure it is taken. Teaching heads are also entitled to PPA time.

However, there are no hard-and-fast rules or guidance on what constitutes an appropriate amount of headship time. It is really down to the discretion of the heads themselves in consultation with their governors.

A survey of governing bodies conducted in July by Information for School and College Governors showed a somewhat negative reaction to workforce remodelling. Many governors complained that it created a lot of extra work for already struggling schools without providing any real benefits.

Small schools were suffering, especially when it came to funding the changes. One governor said: "Small schools have no flexibility because staff and maintenance costs take up everything."

Another claimed that workforce remodelling is "worrying staff to the extent that it is affecting their work-life balance, that for the sake of 10 per cent of their time, their workload will actually increase for the remaining 90 per cent".

Meanwhile, nearly a third of those surveyed said their school had no plan to ensure teachers and heads had a reasonable work-life balance while 10 per cent remarked that it was very difficult for the head to switch off and awkward for governors to dictate in this area.

Judith Bennett, vice chair of the National Governors' Council, says she is aware of the issue, particularly in small schools, of heads giving up their own entitlement to dedicated management time to cover teachers' non-contact time.

"Governors are not happy about it, but the thing that is at the root of it is money. I know there's 1 per cent more in the budget, but to be perfectly honest, as ever, that's totally inadequate to address something as important as this."

And although governing bodies have a responsibility to provide dedicated headship time, they cannot make heads improve their work-life balance.

"I have heard it said umpteen times by chairs of governors: 'How can I make my head stop?'," she says.

"Well, you can't, unfortunately. You can care about them, you can give them advice, you can say to them you mustn't, you can even say it's time you went home. But if people choose not to stop, there isn't a way we can make them."

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said the department is aware of the workload of heads and had brought in work-life balance provisions of the national workload agreement.

"Heads also benefit from the 'leadership and management time', 'dedicated headship time' and, if they have a teaching commitment, guaranteed PPA time provisions of the national agreement," he said.

"In addition, we have removed many bureaucratic burdens from schools to free up time for heads and teachers. It is important that heads, as well as teachers, receive their contractual entitlements. Schools that are struggling to implement PPA without adding to the workload of heads should urgently seek the assistance of the national remodelling team through their local remodelling adviser."

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