Where to find the time to think and plan?

21st April 2006 at 01:00
This saga of the last three weeks of term before Easter - the breakneck bash, as I call it - will be very familiar to fellow headies, indeed all teachers over the land.

The second year options are well in the swing through personal and social education and we only have their reports, parents' information evening, parents' consultation evening and 220 individual option interviews to do.

The fourth and fifth year options are likewise, except that their interviews take much longer and have two purposes: checking how their study targets are going, as well as their future destinations.

Add to this our mentoring programme for S4s and our S5 and S6 underachievers (seen weekly in groups) and also our enterprise agenda with a Third Option conference for S6 and Learning Game enterprise workshops for S4s (brilliant, by the way).

We also have our school musical, which for various reasons could only be staged before Easter, and our gateway meetings, where we go out to our partner primary schools (all 23 of them) in the evenings to meet the P7 pupils and their parents.

Put all of this into three short weeks (none of it could be moved) and you have a staff - both teaching and non-teaching - stretched to the limit.

In among all of this, the planning for the next term is already in motion.

Our two timetablers are well down the road and about to embark on the heavy stage of creating the new and ever more complex and demanding timetable, with the added difficulty of the new McCrone hours to deal with. (The additional staffing allocated to us will help, but the challenge is to spread it around where it is needed.) We are also preparing for the third year exams after Easter as well as the SQA exam diet, and, of course, our annual senior prize-giving, which has to take place before the exams.

In spite of all this activity, we need to set aside thinking time, especially at this time of year.

Forward planning is not just about self-evaluation and going through How Good is our School? If we are to develop a truly collaborative culture in our schools with every person (and of course our pupils are included in this), then we need to have time to engage with our staff and create opportunities for them to mull over the big ideas and shape them for their needs and aspirations.

To be able to do this well involves using the few short windows of time which we have at our disposal.

After-school sessions just aren't the answer. Secondary staff are pretty exhausted after their relentless working days, and staff development days - few and far between - are often dominated by externally driven agendas.

The only way is to steal a little of the exam time in May. To plan for that, my senior leadership team needs time before Easter.

We have already given up two weekends (and a chunk of our holidays) this session to work on the big ideas and I'm not going to ask for more. So, somewhat naively, I think in retrospect, I planned a day out in March with my team, along with two of our quality information officers, to do some hard thinking about where we were going now and how we could engage effectively with our staff to set our agenda.

My team, while enthusiastic as always about the concept, were concerned about the timing. But I was determined and turned a deaf ear to their sage advice. Well, surprise, surprise, it didn't happen and a day after the holidays has been set.

When I meet with other agencies I am always envious of the time they can set aside to think and plan. We, in education, can't. We have our pupil cohort waiting for us day in, day out.

It is quite a different ball game in industry and commerce, where days, often weeks, are set aside by leaders and managers to evaluate, be creative and plan forward. Yet here we are in education, in a position to shape the future of Scotland's young people, and indeed our country, but without the time to plan for it effectively.

Our understanding of the learning process is deepening all the time, along with our understanding of what drives and motivates people. We could be on the threshold of an exciting new beginning in Scottish education, but it won't happen unless we are given the tools to do it, and the most important resource is time.

Meanwhile, we'll just bash on, as we always have.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban High

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