Something for the weekend?

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Patricia Denison answers your leadership questions

I am the head of a three-form entry, successful junior school. Despite misgivings about the implementation of planning, preparation and assessment time, we've found the money to do it, and have been able to organise so that each year group can be released together on four different afternoons.

From the children's point of view, this seems to work. Teachers in one year group, however, whose PPA time is on Fridays, assure me that because they continue to meet after school during the week, they are entitled to make a professional judgement on how to spend their Friday afternoons. Should I agree to them working off-site, potentially starting the weekend early? I am uneasy.

You are uneasy because you have some nagging doubts about this arrangement, and you should consider these, maybe with the help of an objective colleague able to ask some searching questions.

First of all, what kind of school is it? I don't mean whether it is infant, junior, primary, secondary, big, small, urban or rural, but rather I'm interested in its "state". You say it's successful. Are you talking about results, culture, emotional well-being or role in the community? How are decisions made in the school? Who makes them? How hard do people in the school work, and for how long? To what extent is the nature of this work directed? Years ago, there used to be a degree of anxiety expressed around the notion of "directed" hours. Teachers were contracted to work 1,265 hours over 195 days. Some heads would subtract the hours which constituted the school day, from the total, and "direct" the remaining hours. Teachers in those schools inevitably counted the hours they worked and mentally clocked in and out. They were encouraged to see their role as time driven, and developed a kind of factory-worker mindset. There was the notion of any contribution outside these directed hours being made as a result of "good will". Good will was constantly being tested and at times was under threat of being withdrawn altogether. The culture was top-down and instructing - people did as they were told. The business of time obsession has been carried through the national strategies. Teachers were told that a lesson should be of a prescribed duration, and its parts should last for a stated number of minutes. Heads were required to tot up the number of hours spent on each part of the curriculum, according to its perceived importance in the hierarchy. When they realised that in order to be an effective teacher, you have to interact with other teachers, heads were encouraged to give some "non-contact" time to teachers with extra responsibility. But it was quickly realised that the term was too vague. It hinted at what was not done, rather than what was done, and it was changed to Mast - monitoring and support time. Teachers privileged to get Mast (as well as being paid more than their colleagues) kept meticulous records of what they were monitoring (and for how long).

And now we have a statutory requirement that all teachers must have a 90 per cent "contact" timetable. The 10 per cent non-contact time has been given a name - in case teachers use it to read, or chat to colleagues, or to have a breather from the taxing demands of teaching.

Your unease can be assuaged if you take a look at your values. What do you want for your pupils? What do you want for your staff? What kind of climate do you want? Is it one which seeks to control, or one designed to develop autonomy and leadership at all levels? What about fairness and openness? How do those abstracts manifest themselves in practice?

Once you have been through this process of enquiry yourself, you may be inclined to facilitate the process for your teachers in order to enable them to confront similar questions. I wonder what their conclusions will be.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email pdenison@thevillageschool.demon.co.uk

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