11th May 2001 at 01:00
Ialways worry when statistics are broadcast about the long hours teachers work. The results of polls are invariably given as averages and I worry about whether I'm average, below average or above average. No one wants to be average, and I certainly don't want to be below average - but heaven forbid that I work 70 hours a week. I must have a life, surely?

So I begin the tortuous sums. If I arrive at school at 7.45am (Tom the caretaker will testify to this) and leave about 6pm (sometimes it's earlier if it's my turn to let the dog out first, sometimes it's later if I've had a meeting), then that's 10.25 hours actually at work. I never have a lunch break, because that is when I can talk to children and staff.

When I get home, we have something to eat and take the dog for a walk (which is almost impossible in Devon at the moment) and then start work again at 8pm for another two hours (except on Fridays). Every Sunday I work for at least four hours.

Now, doing the sum in my head, using all the strategies from the daily dedicated maths lesson, I make that 10.25 x 5 = 51.25 + (2 x 4) = 8 (59.25) + 4, giving a grand total of 63.25. This makes me above average but not completely sad, as I don't work on Friday evenings and I have Saturday off. On Friday evening I have a glass of wine and fall asleep. On Saturday I wash, iron, shop, clean, cook, garden and worry about assembly on Monday.

I look forward to the holidays as a respite from the routine. If it's a week's break, then there's no chance that I will be able to switch off, and I will spend the first few days worrying about all that I need to do. The rest of the week will be spent actually doing it.

However, a two-week break gives m time to relax. I spend the first few days worrying. Then there are a few days of complete oblivion when I can read a whole novel and not relate the actions of the characters to people I know. Then a day or two of fretting about all that needs to be done before I actually get down to things.I return to work feeling refreshed and righteous.

The long summer holidays are the worst. This is when the doubts set in. How can I be sure the children will still respond after the long holidays? Will everyone have forgotten the school routines? Can I still remember where I filed everything after the end of term tidy-up in the office? How do you teach? What does the school development plan say we should be doing?

I wonder whether teachers would really benefit from 40 weeks evenly spread across the year, with breaks of two weeks in between. Working this out in my head, this would give us 48 weeks, leaving four spare. Which means that at the end of every term, teachers could have a week in school without the children, to reflect on the term that had passed and plan for the next one. So the actual holiday could be just that. A holiday.

Of course, there has to be a snag. The year doesn't fit nicely into blocks of 10 weeks because Easter is a moveable feast. And teachers would probably sulk if they didn't have a long summer holiday.

Personally, I would be so pleased to have a worry-free holiday that I would forfeit a lengthy summer break. This sounds so simple that it can't be possible. Perhaps someone able to spend time on the sums could work it out. I'm too busy - I have an assembly to worry about.

Val Woollven Val Woollven is head of St Andrew's Church of England primary, Plymouth

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