Sunday, 15 January 2017

Saving time and 'work-shy' managers

I wrote this blog on the basis of seeing somebody writing on-line that they left school early to set an example to staff to have a work/life balance. Where you work is immaterial. You could work at home or at school. You are still working.  My point, when writing this blog, was to focus on the idea that changing a teacher's work/life balance was as simple as showing a teacher you leave school early. I was not passing judgement on the people who leave early to look after children or the people who take their work home. Work is work. Everybody has a different context. I am not judging anybody about how they do their job. Nor am I being pious and righteous about my way is right. I am concerned that there are some people who think dealing with work/life balance is a simple case of modelling behaviour. A manager with only two classes to teach is setting an example to a teacher with six different classes on how they deal with the marking load isn't a fair.

To be honest, I worked in industry before teaching and I worked for one manager. He was the first to leave and the last to arrive in the morning. He worked me into the ground and he got the credit for all the good things I did. He lived the life of Riley and I lived in Hell. I worked so hard, while he didn't. But, culturally, this was acceptable because he was the boss and the boss could do what he wants. If he worked at home, I could see things as fair, but he didn't. He did nothing. At one stage, he told me take things easy. The funny thing is that him telling me to take it easy did not make things easy for me. He could have made things easier through his actions. His actions could have made my life easier. He held the responsibility for making my life harder or easier in his hands, but by making life easier, he'd have to change his set up.

I left that job. In fact, I resigned. I walked out. The same thing, I feel, is happening in teaching.  

This blog isn't about the time a manager leaves school - to be honest, I am not that bothered what time you leave school. Leave on the bell, for all I care. Some people have interpreted this blog as me attacking managers who leave school early; I am not. The fact that I leave at 5 is immaterial to the point I am making - I just used it to provide a bit of context. We all know the work never stops when the bell goes.  

It is what a manager does that is more important. I wanted to make the point that managers have a role in creating balance. Saying the words or modelling behaviour isn't enough to make long-lasting changes.


I once read on Twitter somebody claiming that as a leader they set an example to other staff about having a work/life balance. They were the first to leave school at the end of the day, proving just senior leaders have a life and the teachers didn’t because they have to work and mark stuff. I suppose I am a bit traditional, but I tend to feel that if you have a position of responsibility, you must work harder than those without a position of responsibility. It galled me when I was younger that some people, teachers, viewed management in teaching as an easy option because you have less marking and fewer classes. I’ll be honest I wouldn’t rate anybody above me in a chain of command, unless they were working harder than me. 

I am generally the last to leave school during the week. I don’t do that much at home, apart from a few hours on a Sunday. But, the cleaners are always surprised when I leave before 5. What do I do in this time after school? Well, one thing: making the teaching and learning better in the classroom for the teachers in the department. As a manager, or Head of Department for people who like labels, I feel it is my responsibility to declutter the role of teaching in a school. I simply want staff to teach the best they can and focus on teaching and making students learn. Therefore, I do a lot of stuff to make things easier so that the teacher can focus on teaching. All too often, there are ideas, strategies and processes in schools that have a detrimental effect on teaching. I am constantly asking myself and others, what is the impact on teaching? If it will affect the quality of the teaching, then it should be reconsidered. Teachers want to teach. That is a simple fact. Teachers get angry and frustrated when a greasy oik in a nicely pressed suit tells them to do something that will prevent them in part from teaching because they want to look good as a manager. Anybody in a position of authority in a school should always be questioning their impact on learning and teaching. One wrong cog in a machine can have an incredibly detrimental effect on learning in a school, because they take teachers away from learning and teaching. The hour it took to fill in a spreadsheet is an hour lost on making the teaching of a lesson good, outstanding or of a high quality.

If we want teaching in schools better, we need to make sure we give teachers time to make their teaching better. We have to declutter their lives. The plate spinning has gone on for too long. Yes, give staff a CPD session on ‘dealing with disaffected boys’ but do it in a short burst and do it so that it has a minimal impact on their planning for teaching. I have sat numerous INSET sessions and whilst they have been good, I am still sat there watching the clock, thinking of all the work I need to do and plan before I can teach.

On this basis, I have decided to share my hacks. The things I have done to make the department focus more on the teaching and to declutter the lives of teachers. Some are new things this year and some are things I have done for a long period. People familiar with the blog will recognise some, but all I have designed / used with the teacher in mind. They are used so the teacher can focus on the teaching.

1: The 200 Word Challenge                         

Time saved: three hours

Lessons prepared: Four

At the start of a term, I make a PowerPoint of writing challenges. Each week, students in KS3, and some KS4, write 200 words in response to a challenge. This week, they wrote a story backwards. When the students are writing, the teacher walks around the room marking books and advising students how they could improve. Then, the second half of the lesson is spent peer assessing work and reading out the best responses. Students are developing and improving their writing on a weekly basis.

The staff have three or more lessons planned. They also have time to mark books in lesson, saving them doing it outside of lesson. 

2: Mock Targets

Time saved: two hours

A large amount of a teacher’s time is spent on marking. The mocks, like coursework, tend to dictate a lot of that time. In the past, we used to repeat the same comment again and again. So, the time spent mark wasn’t effective time spent. Therefore, we devised a code system for marking. Teacher mark the papers in this way: 2A , 5F, 5 D and A.  The teacher only has to write two things down. Each question has a set of readymade targets and the student only needs to consult the list of targets and write the meaning of the letter on their paper.

The targets for the mocks has halved our marking of all mocks and has come in very handy this year with the new GCSEs.

3: Department Targets

Time saved: twenty minutes

To reduce the amount of marking, we decided to make the feedback we give more precise. Therefore, we developed a code for marking in class and a further code for units. Instead of long comments, the teacher could write a number. Along with reducing the marking, it helped us to focus on the teaching and the skills taught.

4: Knowledge Organisers

Time saved: two hours a week

I don’t need to spend ages on this one as every man and his dog has written about this one. They have reduced the amount of planning for homeworks. Students are given the sheet and told to learn and revise information in one of the boxes. The following week the students learn another box.

5: Core Knowledge Tests

Time saved: two hours

Lessons Prepared: five

At the end of every term, we have what we call a core knowledge test. We test a student’s ability to identify techniques, knowledge of techniques and vocabulary skills. It takes me about thirty minutes to make a test, but it takes a whole lesson for students to sit the test and mark it. The test was created on my frustration of having to remind students the difference between a simile and a metaphor. We, therefore, return to the definition of techniques each term, so they don’t forget. Students have a glossary of key terms in their English reading logs, so they can revise in preparation of the test.

6: Reading Test

Time saved: two hours

We use a paid for reading test as a diagnostic tool in English. For one year group, a TA and myself mark one whole set of papers for staff. We do it to alleviate a difficult time of marking. The data is used for the latest assessment point and staff can focus on improving the quality of marking with the other year groups.

7: Data input

Time saved: half an hour a week.

I don’t ask staff to fill in endless spreadsheets, when marking mocks and tests. I provide them with a paper copy and they pass the sheet on to me when they have finished. As a HOD, I input marks and prepare it for them to use as a diagnostic tool. There is nothing worse than marking with a laptop in the way. Also, we have all been there when the technology doesn’t work.

8: Resources

Time saved: ten hours

Lessons Prepared: fifty

I have for the last few years provided a poetry anthology for each year group in the similar style of the GCSEs. Staff have taught those poems over the year, when they wanted to. There is nothing better for an English teacher than a lesson on a poem. Nice little discreet lessons separate and easy. Very little planning needed.

This year, I am trialling something new. We are having a piece of non-fiction a term and using that with each class we teach. We agreed that we needed more non-fiction in lessons, so this kills two birds with one stone. The text will have to prepared materials and questions, so teachers can teach the text in a standalone lesson. This, in addition, to other non-fiction texts studied should help to improve our students’ confidence of reading unfamiliar texts.

9: Year 11

Time saved: fifty plus hours  

Lessons Prepared: One hundred

The biggest concern for me this year is the new GCSE. Therefore, I decided the second in department and myself would plan the majority of lessons this year. Between us, we would provide a framework of lessons for the department. Staff could use and adapt for their classes. It has provided, so far, a bit of stability for something that people are concerned about. The funny thing is that it isn’t much work for me. I would be planning those lessons for my class anyway. I am only sharing and adapting those lessons for the department.

10: Photocopying

Time saved: two hours   

My office is near the photocopying room and it is interesting how teachers use the photocopier. I photocopy all tests, sheets and booklets teachers use. If it is a common resource, then I photocopy it. I photocopy things in bulk. The department know that there is a place where to find the sheets needed.

11: Stopping all assessments being at the end of term

The worst time to assess a student is usually at the end of the term. They are tired. The teacher is tired. In fact, everybody is tired. Our assessments are spread out over the year so there are not marking / assessment hotspots. It is not perfect and sometimes it is hard to avoid, but we do assess at different points in the term. There is nothing more stressful for a teacher is having five sets of assessment all needing to be assessed by the end of term.

12: Systems

This might sound obvious, but I feel that systems have help us as a department manage a lot of issues with workloads. We have a regular system for spellings and testing spelling. We have a regular system for tracking reading and we monitor it. Because it is a clear and consistent system, it is easy and stress free. We use these systems for our homeworks and make this clear to parents. Staff don’t have to stress about setting homework for homework sake, because our students are always completing on some form of homework. Reading. Or, revising spellings.

13: Phonecalls /students

If I can solve a problem or issue quickly with a phonecall, I will do it. If I could ensure a lesson goes smoothly, I will take the disruptive student out of the mix. Dealing with things quickly and suddenly can stop problems in the long run.

14: Cover lessons

A teacher is off. Cover lessons are simple. Get yourself better, I will cover things. The class can either do a ‘200 Word Challenge’ or they can work from the department bought CPG workbooks we have especially for cover lessons. First, they need to read for twenty minute and then they do the work. Simple.   

I am not the first to leave school to show teachers they need to have a work/life balance. Me swaggering out of the door at 3.30pm is not going to convince staff to think about their work/life balance. A teacher doesn’t need showing or telling they need a work/life balance. They need managers to enable them to have a work/life balance. Managers need to look at what they are doing and how that has an impact on a teacher. In truth, they need to work harder at making a teacher’s life easier. A teacher wants to teach. A teacher needs to like feel they are teaching. A teacher should be teaching.  A manager should be working their hardest to enable and empower that teacher to do what they are employed to do.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Fantastic post!

    On a typical day, what time do you arrive/leave school?

  2. Thank you, James. This created some furore over the comments I made about the time I leave school. I didn't intend it to be about that.

  3. hello!! Very interesting discussion glad that I came across such informative post. Keep up the good work friend. Glad to be part of your net community.
    My Hacks


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