Work for us, get your life back

Head's innovative approach to preparing lessons effectively gives staff an extra day off a week, reports Helen Ward

A LONDON primary school is hoping to solve its recruitment problems by offering those who join the staff the chance to get their "private lives back" - by cutting out lesson planning.

Headteacher Wendy Arnot hopes that her move to cut teacher workload will attract staff to her school, Gainsborough primary, in Stratford, east London.

Two teaching posts were advertised last month highlighting the fact that "half-termly and weekly planning is done and only needs tweaking". The response has been positive, with several potential applicants expressing an interest.

Miss Arnot believes the move will give her staff the equivalent of a day off a week during term-time - the time teachers normally spend on lesson planning.

Plans for every subject and year group are stored on computer. Teachers then simply print them out and adapt them for their class.

Miss Arnot said: "In previous years different initiatives have come in, so we've never been able to use stuff from one year to the next, but this year there is not going to be anything new - we hope.

"We did have a weekly planning meeting, which lasted 90 minutes, to start off the planning, but teachers would finish it in their own time and some would spend the whole day on Sunday planning.This will definitely ease their workloads."

The Office for Standards in Education's 2001 report on the school praised its planning system. The 448-pupil school has come out of special measures since Miss Arnot arrived in 1996. But inspectors said that further improvements were being hindered by an unusually high staff turnover.

It found that teachers arrived for a short period, trained in a curriculum area, but then left for a new job. In two years, 18 teachers had left and 15 arrived.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Planning is one of the most onerous areas of teaching. I welcome any developments that end weekend working."

The move comes after ministers this year set up a major pilot project in which 32 schools are investigating how to cut red tape. The Government argues that much of teachers' administrative work can be handed to support staff.

Ministers, who are considering how to respond to a report on workload by their pay and conditions advisers, want more administrative staff in schools. But Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, wants teachers to be given more guaranteed time for marking and preparation to support "individualised" lesson planning for pupils.

PLANNING IT RIGHT

* Update plans only when strictly necessary.

* Avoid undue length and complexity.

* Use schemes of work to help focus preparation.

* Store templates of plans centrally so that everyone can access and add to them.

* If the template is on a computer disc, copy and paste the relevant sections into a weekly plan.

* Weekly and daily plans should be simple and practical. The most important part is the teaching goals for the day.

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