Run off my feet around the clock

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Morning, noon and night I work and still I'm running to catch my tail! That's what school life feels like just now.

The staff have been exactly the same, working flat out to get forward plans completed so that they could move on to their reports for parents, writing night after night after night. The content is one consideration but also we seem to have been moving from one electronic format to another for a few years now. Each has had its own glitches, so there has been the worry of everything being lost.

I try hard to rise above the effort of doing this task to ask myself honestly: Is this a really great report or does it just look good because it has been word processed? Could I really identify one pupil from another by the report alone?

We are under pressure to complete reports in a reasonable time and while the electronic versions with comment banks help us to do that, they sometimes lose the personal touch and have too much jargon. If your school has solved this problem, please share your secret with us all.

With the reports completed by the teachers, it was over to me. I've read and signed almost 400.

I used to peer at a small computer screen because I was too mean to print off reports and have to do so again when errors were spotted.

Spelling-checkers solved that. The expert who first provided software without any had obviously never written reports at midnight.

After a while I noted that many pupils were getting "Good" in aspects of expressive arts but "Very good" for physical education. I was not surprised.

Each year the school board invites the pupil council to meet with them around a very impressive table at the nearby headquarters of Agilent Technologies in South Queensferry. This year's agenda had three questions: What's great about school? What could be improved in school? How might the school board help? Again PE came top of the list of what's great about school.

It was no surprise that the children rank it best because we have a great PE teacher. I didn't need my night-time report reading marathon to tell me that but the confirmation is what monitoring is all about. Let's hope there will be scope to appoint lots more great specialist teachers soon.

Morning, noon and night, I said, and it was before breakfast when I sat putting my signature to the front page of each report.

I remember dismissing a Scottish Executive Education Department reporting document some time ago just because it said "headteacher's signature and comments". I might still have been completing reports in August. Perhaps this was another offering from someone who had never done the job.

Noon, well, that's the window of opportunity I have to complete that development plan and standards and quality report which is hanging over my head. The rest of the days are spent with our hectic routines.

Evenings in schools are also busy near the end of the session. This year the parent-teachers association had the great idea of a show for our older pupils. It was a talent show and we could have sold out for a few evenings.

The pupils had seen a high school talent show and loved it. Not to be outdone, and knowing that their teachers and head had nothing else to do but attend rehearsals and the show, they swept us along with their enthusiasm.

Add to the diary a strings concert, nursery parents' evenings, new P1 parents' evening, PTA annual meeting I and you get the picture.

This month I had an extra visitor: an unannounced call from the school auditor. Most of our procedures were fine but some missed out new requirements: a receipt book, a long list of spreadsheets to be designed and, of course, new policies about things I don't begin to understand.

I suggested that if we sent our pupils home all of us would have time to meet the new set of targets.

So, I'm looking forward to the holiday and wish you all a good one too!

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher at Queensferry Primary, Edinburgh

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