A taste of forbidden fruit.

There seems to be wide agreement amongst my colleagues that the single greatest improvement that could be brought about in educational outcomes would be achieved by creating time for teachers to do their jobs properly.

I am a fan of the system I have seen in Switzerland and Germany, where teachers for the most part do just teach. They are not required to be in school when they are not either doing that, or are fulfilling other commitments such as meetings. They are also paid enough that many can afford the choice of working 75-90% timetables, and opting for more time over more money. It doesn’t seem to make for poorer education.

I have seen this working many times when staying with my colleague in our Swiss partner school, but this morning, I sampled how it might feel, British-style. I had an unmovable medical appointment at 11am, and given my thirty-mile trip to work it was not worth going in beforehand. I was able to get up at a reasonable time, actually wake up properly (I’ve never been a morning person), have a gently-paced breakfast and take a shower. I then sat down and did a couple of hours’ work (i.e. not much less than I would have at school) safe in the knowledge that there would be no interruptions. Thanks to the internet, I was able to communicate with colleagues and access resources in addition to those I keep at home. It was all most productive, and I have now prepared many of next week’s lessons, leaving me a rather freer weekend and more time to get my marking done without consuming the whole of Sunday.

I was then able to write this post before popping out to the shop to buy a newspaper and heading along to the surgery. I’m fortunate that I live somewhere where these things (and many more) can be done within about five minutes’ walk of my front door. The appointment did not take long, so I was still in plenty of time to arrive at school for my next lesson at 12.30.

I worked an eleven-hour day (plus 90 minutes’ travel) yesterday thanks to a parents’ evening, so this was all most welcome. For my friend in Switzerland, a day like this was not unusual even before he retired, and it made the sometimes-long days and early starts of the Swiss system more acceptable as there is balance. It allows people to manage their lives and provides a respite from the hurly-burly of the school environment.

Yes, today’s schedule was bought at the cost of a colleague or supply teacher covering for me – but done properly, the larger number of teachers needed would resolve that – and it would create jobs! The total staff roll in my friend’s school is almost as large as ours – for less than half the number of pupils.

While Britain has a teacher shortage, this is clearly pie in the sky – but such improved conditions might in themselves start to resolve that problem. Working conditions such as this would, I suggest be win-win, with a better life-balance for teachers and more considered work being done. I wonder whether a free school would be allowed to operate such a model – but as far as I know, it has never been tried. I doubt it would be allowed to get off the ground – not good ‘value for money’ (for which read punishing enough). It’s also too far removed from the daily experience of those who make such decisions, many of whom seem to have forgotten what it is like to teach a full timetable, and who already enjoy some of this flexibility themselves in any case.

We can but dream.

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