Talkback

25th May 2001 at 01:00
As you read this, it is odds-on that our Easter cards are still on display in the lounge. Not because they cheer up our milkman each morning - and they do - but because taking them down is way off the scale when it comes to priorities.

You could argue that having to return to an Ofsted inspection immediately after Easter - as my colleagues and I had to - would put the dampers on any festivities, and that it is remarkable that the cards went up in the first place. But one of the great things about having young children is that, at some point each day, even the most pressing schoolwork is an impossibility.

Consequently, little things which you would otherwise quite willingly forgo (such as Christmas and Easter) are foisted upon you by your children under threat of eternal nagging if you fail to keep up with the Joneses for even a nanosecond.

With this in mind, I offer all political parties a manifesto suggestion to increase substantially their share of teacher votes in the forthcoming election. Where once we had Baker days, we will, in future, have take-a-days. The extent to which take-a-days are long overdue hit me one evening last week.

I had to telephone a parent from home. While I could describe in minute detail every crease of the scrap of paper on which I had written the number, two thorough searches through my school bag revealed nothing. And took half the evening. I could not sleep that night, nor could I remove from my mind a visit to my bank manager.

Then I realised the connection. The visit was the only time I have ever been truly jealous. Not of his money, nor of the funds at his disposal. No, I was jealous of his desk. Or rather, the top of his desk. There was nothing on it. A clear desk. Such things really do exist outside furniture warehouses.

I want a clear desk. And a clear kitchen table. And a hall floor clear of bags bursting with school documents. And I want themnow. And take-a-days will procure them for me - and for my 400,000 fellow teachers.

Take-a-days will be triggered by:

* our biceps aching because our bag contains too much for us to be able to find anything important within a week;

* our pigeonholes containing more than our stock cupboard;

* the toilet seat being the only surface at home not covered with school books and papers.

We would then, with the DfEE's backing, "take a day", on full pay, to sort out our bagpigeonholehouse. The day would be cost-effective, given the enormous time saved by teachers no longer having to burrow through a rainforest of documents to locate what they need. (If only the Government was as keen to record the number of workdays lost through trying to find things among the piles of paper it has foisted upon us, as it is to record the number of workdays lost through illness, take-a-days would have been introduced years ago.) Just as children who had been ill were once allowed back into school only with a doctor's note confirming they had regained full health, if one take-a-day is not enough, we will be forced to take another. The more take-a-days we are instructed to take, the fewer we will need. And it will be a matter of time before we need fewer than one per week.

I have no idea how my primary colleagues cope, in the absence of any preparation time during the school day. And while my sympathy for heads is tempered by the fact that they must have been mildly masochistic to apply for headship in the first place, the sudden requirement on heads to process, in some cases, dozens of threshold applications followed closely by scores of performance management targets, while having to deal with ever more initiatives from on high, convinces me that even heads should be entitled to take-a-days.

The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is head of modern languages in a northern grammar school


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