You don't have to be a workaholic to lead a school

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Having read again about the horrendous hours apparently worked by headteachers (The Issue, October 14), I had to set the record straight, or at least offer some balance to the debate.

I am headteacher of a medium-sized comprehensive: we have 1,000 pupils, 58 teachers and 28 associate staff. I aim to work 45 hours a week and, usually, I just about achieve that. My working day is approximately 7.45am to 4.45pm; nine hours a day. I am counting breaktime and lunchtime because I am on duty and don't take anything that could reasonably be defined as a break. I aim not to take any work home, so that my time from arriving home and leaving the next morning belongs to my family. This is not always possible as... teach English and sometimes have to do an hour's marking at home.

The workload and remodelling agenda was introduced with the aim of reducing teachers' working hours to 45 per week. That has always seemed reasonable to me in a profession which comes with a generous holiday entitlement. And, as leaders, headteachers ought to be setting an example in showing that workaholism is not the way to achieve the best results in the classroom or the wider school environment.

Years before the workload agenda, I set myself the target of a 45-hour week. In my first year I did not achieve it. There was too much preparation and I made the common mistake of setting classes far too much work. I soon realised that if I was going to survive I needed to work a reasonable week; from then on I managed broadly to achieve the 45 hours as a classroom teacher, head of department, deputy head and, now, as a head.

Some people might ask how I manage to leave school at 4.45pm when there are so many meetings to attend. The answer is that we make sure leadership team and governors' meetings finish by 5pm, and sometimes I leave school at 4.30pm. Parents' evenings finish at 7pm, but I don't stay until the end unless I have a class in that year group.

I can only come up with three possible reasons why some heads spend far more hours on the job than me. They might not be good at managing their time, or they might not delegate effectively and therefore spend time interfering with matters that would be better dealt with by others.

The third and, I suspect, most common reason is that some heads quite like the idea that their job is all-consuming; it is what defines them and, perhaps, motivates them. It is easy to fill 80 hours a week if that is what you want to do: extra meetings to attend, conferences, committees, courses and paperwork.

Alternatively, you can do what is necessary to be successful and leave it at that. I agree that teaching is a vocation and I am motivated by the influence I can have on pupils and staff. I am also aware that, while headteachers clearly have a key strategic role to play, in operational terms they are the least important person in a school. It can be tempting to stick our fingers in every pie, but actually the organisation tends to function better when we don't.

For those who think that my "short" working hours are incompatible with success, the school I lead is fully comprehensive with an intake slightly above the national norm. Last year we achieved our best ever results, 7 per cent above the Welsh average for five or more A*-C GCSEs, and we are confident that our pupils will do even better next summer.

Alan Tootill

Alan Tootill is headteacher of a school in Swansea

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