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We're all going on a summer holiday...

Helen Jeys, Headmistress at Alderley Edge School for Girls, explains why now is the time for rest and relaxation

Posted by Rianna Newman | July 06, 2017 | School life

 In preparation for the final half-term of the year, I was searching online for inspiring quotes to share with my students. When looking for the final quote of the term which I will use in my assembly to say ‘goodbye’ to students and wish them a lovely break, I was greeted by some which brought a wry smile to my face. 

Sentiments such as “‘I am so tired of summer vacation’, said no teacher EVER” are not lost on me, particularly as I come to the end of my first year in headship. Indeed, the prospect of a long break during which one loses track of the days and when one has the opportunity to enjoy six weeks away with one’s family is now very much part of my past, as it is for many senior leaders and middle managers across the country.

The summer holiday now will centre around planning and preparation for the new year, helping the bursar to project manage building works, examination result days (and their aftermath) and recruitment. 

My middle managers and other senior leaders will be doing similar tasks in their own areas and departments. And, indeed, all of this is crucial to starting the new year with a clear vision, planned lessons, analysed results, completed press-releases and so on. There is – after all – nothing worse than feeling that one is behind just as the new year starts. Indeed, the summer provides us all with the best thinking time; the ability to read, plan and to spend time developing and strategising; I can’t wait to think I actually have the time to do this!

However, if you have not completed a similar survey in your own school, the recently published Teacher Workload Survey 2016 Research Brief, is worth a close read. Published by the Department for Education in February 2017, it is noted that the average total, self-reported working hours for all classroom teachers and middle leaders during a single week was 54.4 hours (based on the week preceding the survey). Secondary school senior leaders reported longer total working hours; 62.1 hours, and across all schools, senior leaders reported an average total of 60 hours in the week leading up to the survey. Of those surveyed, the majority – 93% – stated that workload in their school was at least a fairly serious problem and 52% described it as a very serious problem. My fear, then, is if we do not take the importance of a having a total break seriously, then we are adding to this problem and affecting the wellbeing, happiness and willingness of our staff in the most devastating way. 

As headteachers, then, as we approach the summer break we have to model healthy approaches to staff wellbeing in our own behaviour.  

How we want our staff to behave should be modelled by us. If we want our staff to enjoy a break, then we need to have a break too. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to wish our staff a lovely holiday if we do not have one ourselves or if we continue to send emails throughout the break with the expectation that one should receive immediate responses.  Furthermore, we should have a total break without feelings of guilt and we should expect the same of our staff. Returning to school looking even more exhausted than the day we finished in July will not do ourselves, our schools or our staff any good at all. 

Therefore, when we do finish for the summer holidays and wish everyone a good holiday, we really need to mean it! And, the only way to do so is to make it clear that the headteacher is having a total break too.  We then may be able to avoid what Bertrand Russell says, so eloquently, in his essay Education and Discipline: “…It is utterly impossible for over-worked teachers to preserve an instinctive liking for children; they are bound to come to feel towards them as the proverbial confectioner’s apprentice does towards macaroons…” 

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