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Work life balance for head teachers

Discussion in 'Governors' started by littlejackhorner, Jan 14, 2019.

  1. littlejackhorner

    littlejackhorner Occasional commenter

    I hope someone could give me some advice about ways of improving work life balance for head teachers. I am a school governor and am aware that things are being done to improve well being and work life balance for teachers and support staff. This is a very positive way forward but who ensures that the head teacher is also supported in this? There are so many pressures on schools driven by the accountability agenda. Has anyone any suggestions for how we as governors could support the head teacher? I wasn't sure if this was the right forum to post this and will also try governors. Any advice would be welcomed.
  2. mbee1

    mbee1 Occasional commenter

    I’m Chair of Governors at a large primary and we and the HT set great store by a good work life balance yet she will still email me at midnight if something is on her mind. I took her to task not so long ago about this. She said she’d had a pretty bad week with both behaviour and safeguarding issues.

    We sat down over a cup of tea and had a chat. She knows I’m only at the end of the phone but I said she must take care of herself as well as the staff in school. She now has a regime whereby she forgets work on Friday evenings, all day Saturday and Sunday mornings and she tries not to work after 8pm at night. It works most of the time although when Ofsted visited just prior to Christmas it went out of the window temporarily. Make sure you’re there to listen because, very often, the Head has no one to talk to.
  3. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    One area of WLB you can look at is the GB's own procedures. It's an area where governors have more control over the demands placed on the head so it's easier for you to do something practical.

    How many full GB meetings a term do you have? How many committees and how often do they meet? Do you need so many meetings? We combined committees so we had only 2 regular ones, I meeting 2x a term, one 1x a term. That meant fewer evening meetings for the head. And for governors - we were looking to improve our efficiency overall, it wasn't only about head's WLB. I've found that improving head's WLB also improves GB efficiency and the demands made on governors at the same time.

    We make it a 'rule' for FGB and committees that we will not ask the head or SLT (it's about SLT's WLB as well) to create new reports or documents for governors when reports/documents that head/SLT have already produced for their own management purposes can be used instead. Of course sometimes new reports/documents are needed, but our head understands our policy is to minimise this.

    Does your head attend every committee meeting? In some GBs that has become 'custom and practice' but it's not required. Maybe the Deputy attends some? Or no-one from SLT attends? (Although I realise some heads want to attend all meetings because they don't trust what governors might do if they aren't there.... :). But that's another issue.)

    Is the head - or other school staff - providing clerical/administrative support that should be done by the clerk? Is your clerk efficient and effective? The head/head's PA should not have to set up meeting dates and distribute papers. Sadly to say I have seen (as an NLG) GBs where the clerking was so poor that the head and school staff ended up doing all sorts of admin stuff that they should not have done, otherwise governance would have ground to a halt. In one GB the clerk did the first draft of the minutes but their draft was so poor the head ended up rewriting the minutes otherwise they made no sense. The underlying problem was that clerk wasn't up to the job but the GB repeatedly failed to tackle that. Performance managing the clerk was needed but didn't happen.

    A particular irritant to my head and to me (as Chair) was that the head produced excellent reports for the GB, made sure they were sent out in good time, but some governors came to meetings without having read them. Not occasionally, they never read them. As Chair I was clear that our GB expected governors to have read the papers prior to meetings. Failure to do that made meetings longer and less effective, adding to the WLB not only of the head but of governors who had read the papers because it made meetings longer.

    Incidentally, many heads will be in unions taking part in the ASOSA industrial action. The 'instructions to members' in ASOSA includes this:

    Governing bodies

    1.20 In order to reduce workload on school leaders and staff, governing bodies should review:

    • timing, length and frequency of meetings;
    • number, timing and length of subcommittees;
    • the administrative pressures they may be placing on schools and school leaders;
    • demands made by governors on the headteacher and teachers to produce information, reports or to attend meetings.
    1.21 No teacher or headteacher should provide administrative/clerical support for governing bodies.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019
    digoryvenn likes this.
  4. Lucy2711

    Lucy2711 Occasional commenter

    I think in the past some of this support could come from the LA through the advisory / school improvement teams - when they worked well. Also mutual support from other local heads. I agree that the current focus on teacher well-being can sometimes lead to us as governors inadvertently neglecting (and perhaps meeting resistance from) the head.
  5. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    To add the above, look at your meeting start times and how long they go on for. It's good chairing to have a target time of, say, 2 hours maximum, for FGB meetings. Again, this isn't only for WLB of head/SLT but for benefit of all governors and to improve effectiveness of governance by focussing on key issues and decison-making.

    First GB I was ever on, back in the 1990s, was my small local primary. I didn't recognise it then, but its governing body was wholly ineffective, more like a school gate moaners meeting. Most non-staff governors were, one way or another, parents. They all lived 'round the corner' from the school. They had set FGB and Committee meetings to start at 8.00pm, without any regard for impact on staff, or on governors who didn't live locally. I worked out they'd done that so that they could put their children to bed before coming to the meeting, then afterwards get to the pub on the corner before last orders. So if important items on the agenda hadn't been reached before it was getting a bit late for the pub they'd all leave!

    This made a really long day for the head and staff involved, who had long commutes and lot of 'trapped time' in school before the meeting started. And they did this 6x a term!

    It took a while but when I became Chair there the first thing I did was get the GB to change its meetings times.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019
  6. littlejackhorner

    littlejackhorner Occasional commenter

    Thanks for all the replies. We do have an efficient clerk who prepares all the admin prior to the meeting. We also have an effective chair who keeps meetings to time.
    I'm aware though of how much needs preparing prior to meetings and wonder if there are ways of making this easier for both the head and p.a. There are things in place in school to ensure better work life balance for everyone else but it got me wondering who is looking after the well being of the head.
    I do know that this will require a cultural shift for schools. As a former deputy head this has never been a priority in the past but unless we make it a priority we are in danger of losing many talented and dedicated staff. The balance seems to be managing the perceived pressures from Ofsted and what is best for the whole school community.

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