Watson-Spence: Education Matters - Academisation means the freedom to think creatively on school start times

Something that caught my eye in this week’s education sector news was the results from a London academy school.

Oxford professor, Russell Foster and former head teacher Paul Kelley are set to present a paper on the research later this year. Kelley said that he believed schools across the country should start later in the morning as they: ‘improve learning, but the sleep deprivation from enforced early starts has an effect on kids' mental health.’

The UCL Academy has become the first university sponsored academy in Britain to introduce a 10a.m. start after research showed that teenagers do not fully wake up until mid-morning.  I started to consider the positives for both children and their teachers should this be a more regular feature of the school experience our young people.

I must admit that the potential benefits do seem to be intriguing to say the least.

As a Head Teacher I often had to chase parents who were consistently late, some barely out of their teens themselves. I considered how many options I had to make changes needed to enhance learning and increase experiences for the children, mainly wraparound care with an educational focus and always including the chance for food!

The key issues within the teaching profession at the minute seem to be demands of the job, work life balance and the pressure of enabling a lower ability child within the system to achieve a national ‘norm’ doesn’t offer the opportunity for all leaders to take a brave and lonely stance to think creatively.

I was drawn to considering the benefits from the UCL Academy as they introduced school time  changes, do they meet the needs of all pupils in their care? Can they contribute to a better work life balance for staff and leaders?

Schools, over time, have become all encompassing communities and have evolved from the 9-3 places of the past to the 8-6pm wrap around care and education facilities for our future leaders.

Could the dynamics of teacher work life balance be addressed by being more flexible in the approaches of the school to the needs of its community?  I’m a bit of a dinosaur in terms of the profession now, but when I started my career there was no such thing as PPA, leadership time, management time and the understanding and expectation was that you did what you needed to do in your own time.

As the years have passed, the profession has changed, demands have been altered, OFSTED introduced and changed over time in line with global demands to compete and national expectations to continually improve we have ended up with a system that feels more like a production line than a vocation that ensures children are both interesting and interested young adults that can we can put our trust in for the future.

In light of this, some things to consider:

Teachers, the job isn’t easy and trying to keep to your contracted hours is nigh impossible so this needs to be considered before entering into the profession. Eyes wide open it’s still a vocational job that relies on relationships, resources and resilience and will never be a job that you can fully switch off from even in the holidays! 

Leaders, could a change to the working school day be a solution to your staff? Would arriving at 8am and having 2 hours every morning be better utilised by your staff for training, meetings, prep, marking. Governors meetings in the morning instead of burning the midnight oil. I’ve never met a teacher who leaves before 4,30pm so potentially making the move from tedium of night work to attacking every morning fresh could offer the option of work life balance back to your team.  I could picture myself with my team discussing this as a viable option to helping to balance the work with the life.

Pupils, maybe the lie in would help you, no more morning rush, no more breakfast free mornings. Chance to read through prior learning, complete homework in the mornings, having the chance to see each other at your most revived and alive.

Parents, sports clubs in the morning, breakfast clubs, to get them physically ready for concentration and energised for learning.  Research has shown that children’s best focus time could actually be the afternoon.  As many jobs are developing a more agile working system for working parents, this could be perfect for many working parents.

Having a more focussed approach to the intent of your school, looking closely at your pupils and how the implementation of a more targeted approach to your clients and their needs could ensure that there is more of a levelled playing field for all pupils. Focussing on a more agile learning environment for schools, developing the children for being the workers of the future, the interesting and interested children become the adaptable, dedicated and resilient leaders of the future.

Of course the academies agenda has allowed schools to think in this type of creative way to best serve parents, staff and, most importantly, pupils.

The freedoms that acadmisation brings really do mean schools can explore the opportunities to help children realise their potential, rather than be sat in the antiquated structures of rigid local education authorities.

From small acorns…

Clare Watson-Spence is a former head teacher and currently an achievement partner for a leading national education charity.

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