I had a fascinating discussion with some headteachers recently about the time they spend on their jobs, the difficulty of their jobs and challenge that such time pressures and other demands present.
I know I’m presenting a significant challenge by asking headteachers to spend up to two days a week focusing upon the teaching process by observing what’s going on in their schools’ classrooms. The obvious response is “where do I find the time?”
So what are the personal outcomes of such pressures? – 60-80 hour working weeks ; 4-5 hours sleep a night; disrupted sleep patterns were not uncommon – what sort of work/life balance is this? – is it any wonder that people don’t want to become head teachers?
So what are some of the expectations which headteachers have to live up to? (in no particular order):
Have a high profile in and around the school means that you undertake duties such as dinner duty, break time patrol, stair duty, detention duty, gate duty, bus duty
Evening work connected with parents’ evenings; community meetings; parents’ council meetings or school events – usually meaning that you have worked through from 7.30am – 9.00pm – on occasions up to three times a week
Open door policy means that you are often disrupted when trying to complete a task – meaning that you either have to do it when everybody has gone for the day, take it home or get in even earlier the next day before anyone else – that’s why headteachers are usually in first and leave last
Correspondence - mail and e-mail are never ending with requests for surveys, responses to the authority, government or other agencies, requests/queries from parents or the community can fill a day themselves
Managing the consequences of pupil misbehaviour can take up huge chunks of time, with interviews, investigations, phone calls, parental meetings and reporting back to teachers all arising from one incident;
Financial management can be a big burden – even with a business manager – with worries arising from discrepancies causing sleepless nights
Personnel issues ranging from grievances, capabilty, competence and recruitment and associated paperwork are tasks which regularly require significant attention
Meetings outwith school can take up large amounts of time in a week – as the school’s major representative you are often required to attend
Writing policies, plans, letters to parents, newsletters, speeches
Analysing attainment data and the subsequent meetings with principal teachers or teachers
Completing the school improvement paperwork i.e. Planning, self- evaluation and monitoring
Timetabling and curriculum issues are significant issues at certain times of the year – especially if the headteacher is the timetabler
Complaint handling involves investigation, responding and on occasions repeated meetings
Reviewing forward plans from teachers and departments
Requests/demands from parents to see the headteacher “I won’t be fobbed off with anyone else”
Meetings with the senior management team, principal teachers, and staff and individual meetings with senior management colleagues
Teaching can also feature on some headteachers list of duties as they like to maintain credibility with colleagues and maintain contact with the classroom by taking on a class for the year, of course a teaching headteacher in a small school has no such option.
The question which jumps off the page for me here is – “Is it reasonable to expect any person to undertake such a range of competing and cumulatively impossible demands?”
The key driver for this review must be the well-being of our headteachers.
In my next post on this topic I’ll try to explore how we (it needs to be a collective solution) try to create some time within such a pressured existence to be involved in the kind of work that really makes an difference to learning and teaching for children and colleagues.