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All work and no play?

With a national shortage of teachers already affecting schools and recruitment set to reach crisis levels in the coming years, it was refreshing to hear Education Secretary, Damian Hines, publicly acknowledge that things need to change in order to retain our best teachers.

A headline strand of his strategy to reduce teachers’ workload is to reduce emails. Yes, emails can take a lot of time to work through and it can be a bit depressing to fire up the laptop after an afternoon at Forest School, as was the case last Friday, to see that there are another 38 emails to address. Bearing in mind that I was out of e-action for just over two hours, this works out at an email every 3 minutes. Educational spam has a lot to answer for; making it illegal to spam a teacher would be a start, as for teachers in classrooms, working through emails can only happen after-school, during evenings or at the weekend.

Another area he is exploring is promoting job shares, through a national job-share dating agency. Simply add in your requirements and find a like-minded teacher nearby who is the perfect match. I’m imagining teachers agonising over their profiles; ‘loves arthouse cinema, blustery walks in the countryside and relaxing with a good book in front of the fire. Available Mondays and Tuesdays, GSOH.’

Hinds attributes the current lack of job shares to, ‘outdated attitudes among school leaders, especially men.’ Besides the gender slur, what he is missing is that job shares are significantly more expensive for schools, especially when the school builds in overlapping planning time so that job-sharing teachers can meet to ensure good continuity in the classroom. When this is in place, job shares can work exceptionally well and enhance children’s experience of school, but the additional cost of achieving this comes from the school’s shrinking budget.

At Highgate Primary, I have always considered teachers’ requests for part time working and can’t think of an occasion when a request has been turned down. What is depressing is that, in recent years, the majority of requests haven’t been around a need for childcare, rather teachers wanting to work four days a week so they can catch up on their planning, marking, and admin on a Friday, in order to protect family time at the weekend. Many other teachers would love to do this, but simply can’t afford to.

The final thrust of his plan is to help with teachers’ planning. I imagine what he means here is to provide teach-by-numbers style lesson plans. This approach was introduced with the National Strategies, and was subsequently rejected. The issue here is that well-planned lessons are bespoke experiences for a particular group of pupils. It might be inconvenient, but classes are not always the same; they are made up of different children with different abilities, behaviours, interests and aptitudes. One size does not fit all in the classroom.

The point that Damian Hinds is perhaps missing is that teachers actually don’t mind working hard. Pop into school anytime between 8.00 in the morning and 6.00 at night, and you’ll find our teachers happily marking and preparing for the next day’s lessons. With long holidays, a 50-hour week is fine – but evenings and weekends need to be protected. Fund a days’ PPA and leadership time for all teachers, and I’m confident the retention problem would be solved.

To help address this issue, please feel free to email Damian Hinds, suggesting that this issue is only going to be addressed with the funding necessary to allow school leaders to support teachers to fulfil their professional duties within working hours.

damian.hinds.mp@parliament.uk

William