School heads feel under pressure, with no time to plan, says union

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The Independent Online

Headteachers should work from home for up to a day a fortnight if they cannot find time to plan the running of their school effectively, according to the leader of the biggest headteachers' union.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "They shouldn't feel guilty about being at home." In an interview with The Independent on the eve of his association's annual conference, which starts in Liverpool today, Mr Brookes said many heads could work more efficiently at home – and should have time during the school day for planning.

Under the school workforce agreement with the Government, headteachers should allow for "dedicated headship time" during their working week – in line with the 10 per cent of the school day guaranteed to teachers for marking and preparation – when they can do things like making strategic decisions, devising timetables and assessing staff.

"Sometimes, though, they can come in at 8am, the phone goes, a teacher wants a piece of your time and you end up not standing still until 5.30pm – and you have to take home all that planning you wanted to do," he said.

"Headteachers should take their dedicated headship time. If it means spending half a day a week or a day a fortnight at home, they should do it. When a school leader leaves the building there should be no more than a shudder in the edifice. If it collapses, the headteacher is taking too much upon him or herself."

Heads feel more "vulnerable" because of pressures caused by exam league tables, test results and parental aspirations, and often find a "brutal ending" to a career if they fail to meet expectations, said Mr Brookes. "A number of heads have dedicated their lives to schools, only to find you're only as good as your last results."

Heads were not only accountable to Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, but also the local council's school improvement service and parent power. "You've got all these people towering over you," he added. "You need some of them off your back."

During the conference, Mr Brookes will call for a scrapping of the current inspection regime. "If you ask Ofsted to come in because you've got a problem they'll fail you, when what you want is help," he said. "The chances are that you won't therefore call them." Instead, he will argue, state schools need a system where inspectors will work alongside them to put things right.

Figures will be released showing heads are retiring earlier because of pressure. The average retirement age is 57. Fewer teachers come forward for headships – particularly in primary and special schools – because they feel job pressures are too great.