Taking leave for your senses

20th June 2008 at 01:00
You're the only mum who isn't going to be there," my eight-year-old says tearfully

Unpaid time off has proven a blessing for those days when you just have to put family first, says Sudhana Moodley

You're the only mum who isn't going to be there," my eight-year-old says tearfully. "Why can't you come to my class assembly?" Sound familiar? You are not alone.

Attaining a work-life balance as a teacher is difficult. On the one hand, the demands of planning, preparation, meetings and teaching are omnipresent. On the other, your children need you to help with homework and the delicate intricacies of their life.

Denby Richards, the headteacher at Foxborough Primary School in Langley, Berkshire, knows just how hard it can be. "You want to attend a child's graduation or treat yourself to a theatre trip."

He has implemented a policy where staff can take up to five days' unpaid leave a year, in addition to the school holidays. Only two days can be taken at a time and it can't be taken on the first or last day of term, but staff appreciate it.

Teachers have spent their unpaid leave looking after elderly relatives and even looking for new teaching jobs closer to home.

Bev James, who teaches at Foxborough, says: "I had to meet staff from my son's school to resolve issues that had arisen. I couldn't have done it if I didn't have the option of unpaid leave."

The school also subscribes to a confidential counselling service - an external company of counsellors retained by Slough local authority. Staff are referred to the service by managers at the school. People who have used the service say that it is helpful to share issues with an expert outside of school and family.

Governors at another primary school in Berkshire say the head can authorise staff to take up to five additional days' annual leave. "You cannot expect a member of staff with a sick child or serious family issues to deliver effective lessons," says the head, who has a teenage child. He has negotiated a four-day working week, leaving the senior leadership team to run the school in his absence.

A pick-and-mix range of measures, such as flexible working hours, job shares and working from home, are all becoming more common, and all help strike the right work-life balance.

A London teacher says: "I give everything to my pupils in class. At the end of each day, I feel so drained that I don't have anything left for my own children." Her solution is to work as a supply teacher because this gives her greater control over her hours.

For me, work-life balance is about trying to switch off mentally after an arduous day. So when I get home, I spend time with my daughter or sit down and write.

Sudhana Moodley is deputy head and a Year 6 teacher at Foxborough Primary, Berkshire


- Work as a team. Distribute work equally by sharing planning and resources.

- Download free resources. Rather than working from scratch, annotate plans and print pieces for display.

- Use your local community. Get parents to help you make costumes for a class assembly or school production.

- Share reading. For example, read one outcome of the Every Child Matters agenda and share it during team meetings when colleagues do the same.

- Have a box file where you keep everything that could be used for evidence later in your career.

- Keep a record of work on a memory stick.

- Talk to someone that you trust - a peer or friend outside school who will act as your support network.

- Network with other schools when introducing new initiatives.

- Do something you've always wanted to do, such as salsa dancing, kick- boxing or writing.

The rules for time off

Rules about compassionate leave vary around the country but some conditions of service are statutory across the UK. For example, leave of up to five days must be provided following the death of a spouse, parent or child; three days for a seriously ill close relative, and up to two days for the sale and purchase of property, exams or interviews.

For details about teachers' entitlement to time off, visit www.teachers.org.ukresourcespdfleave_of_absence.pdf.

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