But the days grow short when you reach September
And the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
And I haven't got time for the waiting game
Last week, with my TSA/SCITT colleagues, I had a long discussion about strategic decisions that would have impact through 2018-19 and 19-20. In any organisation, it is essential to have a strategy that can be communicated throughout the participant group, enabling short term, situational decisions to be incorporated within the broader approach.
One decision, impacting on me, is that I will do one more year supporting next year’s Primary group of trainees. It’s my decision, but, looking at the longer term needs of the TSA/SCITT, they need to consider succession planning, and this enables them to do that within the year. Decisions in education are better made if there is a longer lead-in time. Last-minute decisions can become destabilising, if they become the norm.
In every school, plans for the coming year will be being made, staff appointed to vacancies, hopefully replacing one set of skills with similar or greater. A great frustration for any headteacher is having one or more vacancies in a period of supply famine. During 16 years of headship, on at least three occasions, the year started with me having to teach more or less full time, for up to half a term while adverts went out to scour the available teachers.
The pattern of each year, to some extent, is within school control; when to have parent evenings, report writing, meetings-developmental or organisational, presentations, assemblies (to include parents). Beyond that, teachers are better placed to teach if they have a coherent understanding of how the year will pan out, to ensure that everything that has to be covered is done.
It was at the point where, as a whole school, we sat down, mapped out the school year to look at points of highest demand and also considered the idea of an annual overview curriculum plan, that teachers began to relax a little into the coming year. A relatively small investment in time had a huge impact on morale.
In July, during a half day closure, each teacher would spend time considering the forthcoming year with their new class, mapping out the practicalities and the dynamic interplay of the topics that had been ascribed to that year. Before the summer holiday, the essence of the year was mapped and shared.
The first two weeks of the school year were “given” to the teacher to develop a personal topic that would allow them to settle their class and to inculcate their expectations of the year. On the second Friday, we had a closure, which was part organisational and part detailed planning, having a greater understanding of the children and their needs after the holiday.
Later in the year, the equivalent of a staff meeting per half term was given to look at planning needs. Key Stage meetings were held during the period where I took either KS1 or KS2 for an extended singing session each week.
This was prior to the creation of PPA time.
Events such as Harvest Festival, Christmas and Easter, became extended assemblies, with everyone contributing a short piece, rather than Cecil B de Mille productions, more often sharing poetry or songs that had been learned as part of class time. It’s very easy to raise the general, whole school, stress levels with over-elaborate productions, but parents do like to be party to what their children are doing; they only have eyes for their child!
Just before February half term, we issued reports, probably equivalent to A5 in writing, with a short personal comment and key areas for further development, that became the areas for discussion at parent evenings to follow. It kept the subjects clear. Parents could respond and ask for other specific areas to be discussed. It allowed considered use of meetings, rather than reportage and response. If more than the ten minutes would be needed, then special appointments would be made, especially if the discussion needed the SENCo or another member of staff.
Summer term reports were issued with an invitation to see the teacher if it was requested, rather than a formal meeting.
Closure days were rarely taken tacked onto holidays. After the initial day, the three subsequent days were used for development activity, with the fifth looking at the following year. Making a long weekend, especially in the summer term, proved popular with parents, as well as staff. Development periods were significantly more active from October to June, with one staff meeting being devoted to organisational matters, and three each month to subject development; sometimes single sessions spaced over time, sometimes a whole month devoted to one subject, depending on the lead’s request and possible trial activity in between.
By taking two finalist ITE trainees, some additional development time often became available, through paired staff release, at least for ten weeks.
Each year would be different, as a result of changing needs, of individuals or the school as a whole. Therefore, every year plan would have similarities, but also occasionally significant differences, for example if external curricular change was expected.
You do have to work with available skill sets. Supplemented by external expertise, either on a personal basis, through courses or one to one dialogue, or via expertise-led closures. It’s a case of fine tuning to the evident needs.
· Overview planning allows for communication and a certain amount of diary control, both of which have a part to play in overall workload demands.
· Teaching is demanding on a day to day basis.
· To take account of broader needs requires careful planning.
· The drip feed of external, often political statements, can be sufficient to become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
There is pattern in time, in rhythm and rhyme; give thanks for a world full of pattern… but be ordered, organised and communicate.