I’m the proud head teacher of Jennett’s Park CE Primary. I fully support the 1265 campaign.
Eight years ago, when I was an aspiring head teacher I was introduced to the directed time calculator and I thought I’d never seen an Excel spreadsheet I’d loved more. I can admit I love computers most for their potential just to let me do other things with my time. I worked with a highly experienced colleague who said the gift of time is the most precious thing you can give. That spreadsheet and the advice to always aim to finished meetings five minutes early revolutionised my thinking.
Four years ago, I was appointed as head teacher. My new school had recently been acadamised due to historic concerns. Staff were tired, disillusioned and nervous. Being well was rare due to the stress faced from all sides. My staff had dire attendance as they were swamped. The trust I was fortunate to join was incredibly supportive and the CEO driven by the same passion I had to let this community succeed so the children could thrive. We knew this school deserved better.
I met every member of staff and got them to talk about their gifts and talents, their hopes for the future but also what I could do as a leader to improve the school. I heard many things but what struck me was that I was going to be working (and leading) a team that was brimming with passion in their hearts and a wont to achieve. But I also heard the message again and again that these dedicated champions were also tackling the emotional (and sometimes literally physical) weight of a thousand bureaucratically inefficient and often unnecessary issues
So, to address why the directed time calculator was so impactful: No one had looked at the core day for a while. Staff were being expected to work longer and longer hours to solve issues – eg staff meetings were often two hours! This gave the message that if you work longer hours it gets better. Parents needed time and reassurance about their children’s learning and behaviour and the school was gradually sinking under the tsunami. No one could spend time with families without feeling guilty about work.
So, with my senior team, we looked at drawing up the principles of why we were here and what we should expect our staff to do 1) teach and learn with students 2) take time to plan and train 3) assess impact and adjust. But all the other things that we cared about – time to communicate, dealing with pastoral issues, time to prepare for parents’ evenings. This started the honeycomb of what we now have-a well-structured set up that doesn’t spread staff too thinly.
Last year we added a parallel approach for our support staff. As a team we only take three days INSET out of the five we are all paid for but then use those 13 precious hours to tasks that can help us- lesson study, running focus booster clubs for small groups or whatever we want to focus on to help our community.
Gradually as this has settled down we’ve managed to give more time back- during the pandemic everyone has felt that pressure but as a Team we’ve used this approach to help ride the waves.
This year we’ve got an exciting project on intergenerational work – reaching out to help those lonely people of all ages to connect.
So, to go back to my wise colleague- they’d joke that as a leader you were only as good as your last survey results. I love a survey, but because I can use it to help test our approach. Staff satisfaction in the first anonymous questionnaires in 2017 at the start of our journey was low. Leaders are committed to staff well-being was rated at 45 per cent now 96 per cent and There is an appropriate work-life balance within the expectations of the profession 45 per cent and now 96 per cent. Parents and children surveys mirror the same.
I hope our teams journey triggers you to ask for clarity on what you spend your 1265 hours of time doing, we believe if you choose the important things and the rest soon drops away. If we’ve put in the extra hour or two along the way it was because we chose to not because the system was set up to make us.
For us it then gives us enough stored energy to keep moving for the road we’re on: A focus on life in all its fullness.