Overworked deputies are caught in a ‘perfect storm’

29th April 2016 at 00:00
Senior leaders having to abandon lessons in face of soul-sapping 60-hour weeks

The majority of deputies and assistant heads who teach are increasingly being pulled out of lessons to cover for headteachers, prompting serious concerns over the impact on pupils’ learning, new figures reveal.

A poll, shared exclusively with TES, shows that four in 10 deputies and assistants are working a soul-sapping 60 hours or more a week as they try to balance a significant teaching workload with leadership responsibilities.

The growing need for these senior leaders to cover for their bosses has arisen as headteachers’ time has become increasingly dedicated to dealing with the reforms to curriculum and assessment, as well as the need for schools to work more closely together, the NAHT headteachers’ union says.

Primaries and smaller schools are worst affected by the issue, but it is also becoming a problem in secondaries, the research finds, as the union begins its annual conference today.

Valentine Mulholland, policy adviser for the NAHT, told TES that more deputies are being asked to teach classes in secondary schools, as well as primaries, to address the crises in school budgets and staff recruitment.

“The challenge of doing a really good teaching job and a really good leadership role can be difficult,” she said. “Many of our members are feeling conflicted. They say, ‘The children should come first and we need our teaching to be delivered with excellence but we’re being pulled out’.”

In the survey of nearly 800 NAHT members who work as deputy and assistant heads, 50 per cent of respondents who teach said that they were pulled away from lessons once a week for unforeseen events and emergencies, such as incidents of bad pupil behaviour.

Some 57 per cent said the amount of time they were spending away from their day-to-day teaching had risen. This means that children are being left with higher level teaching assistants, supply teachers and teacher colleagues.

More than eight out of 10 of those who said they had to abandon their classes to deal with leadership duties reported that it had “a negative impact on the learning”.

Juggling duties

One assistant headteacher in a primary school described the situation – where deputies and assistant heads are being asked to teach more, while also having to halt lessons to cover for their headteachers – as “a perfect storm” that has all come at once.

Adam Robbins, from Richard Alibon Primary School in Dagenham, East London, has seen his teaching time double in the past year – from 25 per cent to 50 per cent of his working life – because of the government’s new, tougher assessment regime.

Mr Robbins, who is an assistant head and Year 6 teacher, told TES: “We have to work so much harder to hit all our targets, so we put more of these teachers [deputies and assistant heads] in class. There are not enough high-quality teachers to take these classes.”

He stressed that his role now includes “more social work” than ever before, which means he is pulled out of class more often.

“Schools are having to step in and fill the void as other services are cut elsewhere,” Mr Robbins added.

And the government’s plans for forced academisation are likely to place an additional pressure on schools, the NAHT said, especially for small primaries, where deputies and assistant heads can spend up to 100 per cent of their working time teaching.

Workload challenges

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, which represents middle leaders in schools, stressed: “The smaller the school, the harder it is. There is greater pressure on them to be in the classroom. The situation is more acute.”

The NAHT believes that the government’s recent Workload Challenge reports could have said more to address the concerns of deputies and assistant heads balancing both teaching and leadership.

“They are working incredibly hard for a long time. They are facing some serious issues and we want the government to address them,” Mr Bowen added.

The Department for Education said it was aware that unnecessary workload was “one of the biggest frustrations” for teachers.

The government’s independent workload review groups included both deputy and assistant heads, a spokesperson said, and the reports that the groups produced were “a great example of the profession taking charge of their own development”.


‘Let leaders work part-time’

Only one in 20 deputies and assistant headteachers works part-time, new NAHT heads’ union research suggests.

The NAHT is concerned that leaders and employers share a view that flexible working is incompatible with the job. Just 5 per cent of respondents in the poll said that they worked part-time, which is considerably less than the average 23 per cent across the teaching workforce.

Valentine Mulholland, (pictured, right) policy adviser for the NAHT, told TES: “There is a feeling among members that if you work two or three days a week, you would still do the full week. Some multi-academy trusts, local authorities and governing bodies can also be resistant to leaders working part-time.”

The government’s education White Paper recognises that there is a “risk” of losing talent unless the approach to flexible and part-time working is changed. “I think there is quite a lot to do culturally. It requires a real commitment to making it work,” Ms Mulholland added.

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, which represents middle leaders in schools, believes that examples of where part-time leaders work well should be showcased.

Mr Bowen, who was head of a primary school in Hampshire up until Easter, had a deputy head who worked three days a week, and an assistant head to support her.

“I was able to hold on to a fantastic deputy headteacher and we were able to make it work. Deputy and assistant heads don’t realise they can do it. But if you are seeing it around you, then you are more likely to see it as an option.”

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