Slope off to recharge your batteries

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Head's sabbatical to train as a ski instructor makes headlines.

Taking three months off to train as a skiing instructor in the Alps may not be a typical career move for a headteacher.

It made Andrew Warren, head of Mill Hill Primary in Stoke-on-Trent, the target of critical newspaper reporting this week. It was claimed that his sabbatical had angered parents.

But fellow heads have rallied to his defence, saying that more school staff should be given a break to learn entirely different skills.

Mr Warren, 45, is not being paid for his term-long break, which was agreed in May last year by governors. Parents, too, were notified.

Jean Edwards, chair of governors at Mill Hill, said: "We were mindful that a lot of heads and teachers leave due to stress. I think we should be commended because if he comes back refreshed and raring to go, that's a good thing not just for himself, but for the school.

"We knew he was going to France, but we're not paying him so it was up to Andrew to make the decision on what he did."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said all heads should be allowed to take an unpaid break every seven years.

He said that when he was head of Sherwood Junior in Nottinghamshire, he took a year off to work for the local council, which refreshed and reinvigorated him.

Mr Brookes said he did not think it mattered what heads decided to do with their sabbatical, as even a break that was not ostensibly linked to education could help broaden their perspectives.

"I think training to become a skiing instructor sounds like a wonderful idea," he said. "If my knees were any better, I'd consider it too."

Many education organisations have called for guaranteed sabbaticals for teaching staff, including England's General Teaching Council and the National College for School Leadership. Christine Gilbert, Ofsted's chief inspector, called for sabbaticals for teachers in disadvantaged schools in her annual report in October.

The NAHT has been working with VSO, the international development charity, to send headteachers on three-month placements in Africa. An evaluation of the scheme last year found that it not only helped those who worked overseas, but it also boosted their colleagues back in the UK, who gained valuable leadership experience filling in for them in their absence.

Mrs Edwards said she had full confidence that this would be the case with Mr Warren's deputy Debby Heavey, who is acting head.

"Debby Heavey is capable, knowledgeable and has the ability to take on the role," Mrs Edwards said. "As a governing body, we were satisfied that children's education was not going to be marred - that was our main priority."

As well as skiing, Mr Warren hopes the break will be refreshing for "spiritual" reasons.

This, too, is not unheard of - the Roman Catholic diocese in Hallam wrote to teachers in 2003 encouraging them to take "sacred" sabbaticals, visiting religious sites, among other places.

NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Many teachers use their sabbaticals to carry on teaching, often abroad.

Earlier this month, The TES reported that primary teacher Ginan Menon entered Pakistan, while aid agencies were leaving. The 56-year-old has taken a two-year sabbatical from her job as deputy head of Raynham Primary in east London to train young women in the Punjab as teachers.

But other teachers use their break to develop different skills. One primary teacher in Wales spent four weeks in a botanical garden last year, learning about sustainable development. And a junior school teacher in England spent a term on a guitar-making course in Devon.

Anthony Seldon, the high profile head of Wellington College, took a term-long sabbatical from Brighton College in 2003 to begin his official biography of Tony Blair.

Professor John Howson, The TES Magazine careers expert, says sabbaticals are an extremely helpful tool for retaining staff, and that it should be up to individual teachers do decide how they are spent.

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