Make time work for you

8th June 2007 at 01:00
All over Scotland, schools are reviewing their working time agreements. The 2006-07 session brought a significant increase to 195 hours - or five hours per week - subject to school negotiation. Many hoped this time could be used to address teacher workload.

Some schools thought it would be collegiate to arrange more meetings - curriculum development groups, staff meetings, stage meetings, departmental meetings, CPD meetings, eco-school committees, health promotion meetings.

With time already allocated to parents' meetings, report writing, assessment and forward planning, some heads felt unable or unwilling to allocate sufficient time to address teacher workload. "Giving" additional prep correction time can be seen to be weak. Yet one authority has given an extra 50 hours a year.

The perceived demands of HMIE also drive the management agenda, but why should preparing for the classroom be seen as a less worthwhile use of teacher time than curriculum development?

Curricular working parties seem to be the most common evidence of collegiate working. But I've heard frustrated teachers ask what is the point of staying after school week after week re-inventing the wheel. Does policy writing really inform and improve classroom practice? Of course it can, if it's properly focused, time-limited and regularly shared with colleagues.

Staff meetings can be effective problem-solving mechanisms where all issues are given equal status. However, monologues of reporting authority business are not the best after a day in the classroom.

Formative assessment strategies are being advocated everywhere. Most teachers can see benefits for learning, but to enforce certain methodologies on every teacher for every lesson is utterly counter-productive.

A Curriculum for Excellence is meant to engage us in real professional discussion. Yet, teachers are already feeling jammed into a new orthodoxy.

Formative assessment record-keeping is mushrooming - nothing is valued without evidence. Red, amber and green have become hated colours. Where is the evidence of professional trust and respect for teachers' judgment?

Many teachers feel uncomfortable voicing opinions where any comment is seen as a personal attack rather than a professional discussion. We spend a lot of PSD time teaching pupils how to construct arguments logically and exchange views with respect. Why can't we do it in the staffroom?

Tons of evidence has been gathered for health-promoting school status. How much of that applies to staff well-being? How often do employers demonstrate a real commitment to monitoring headteacher workload? Again, we need leadership by example.

All staff must feel empowered to engage in professional evaluation of the best use of teacher time to benefit learning and teaching in a climate of respect. I suggest a generous allocation in the working time agreement for this. It could be one of your most informative CPD opportunities for some time.

May Ferries is depute head of Victoria Primary in Glasgow

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