22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Q My headteacher refused me a day off to attend the Christmas function arranged by the company my partner works for. I think he was acting like Scrooge; whatever happened to work- life balance for teachers?

A There may be many teachers who feel like you do. Those who have partners working outside education cannot expect their employers to understand that teachers are unable to take a day off just because there is a party to go to. I am sure it makes for friction in some households.

However, teachers aren't alone in having to work employer-fixed hours. We have seen what happens when doctors negotiate new "out of hours"

arrangements; and think of farmers who have to feed their livestock on Christmas Day. In some jobs, being around when there is work to do is just part of the job. However, as this is supposedly the season of goodwill, it would have been worth seeing whether a compromise could have be arranged.

Many heads will reflect that if their staff work hard throughout the year, and don't abuse the trust placed in them, they might deserve the odd helping hand to ease their family life. And in this case, a day off without pay would not have cost the school anything financially - indeed, it might even have saved money.

There is a more serious issue about working hours, though, once extended hours and 365-days-a-year education becomes the norm. The debates about worklife balance weren't solved by the workload agreement, which the majority of teacher unions signed up to, and which gave teachers guaranteed time for planning and preparation.

If the government really wanted to give all teachers a big present, it would use the new money to help cut hours so that "teaching" and "a social life" could be used in the same sentence without everyone bursting into cries of mirth.

Perhaps this could be a New Year's resolution for whoever inhabits the Department for Education and Skills headquarters in 2007. After all, once Scrooge had been visited by the ghosts of Christmas, even he learned to change his ways

John Howson is a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University.

To ask him a question, email him at

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