Primary curriculum timetabling 2022

Back in 2019, just before the introduction of the new inspection framework, I asked teachers to share information about how they timetabled their curriculum in Y1-6. At the time, I was interested to see if there was a shift following the focus on deep dives in foundation subjects; I had no idea what else might happen in the interim. I’d venture that any shift in that direction might have been affected by the covid closures, but who knows? The results from that survey are here.

I’m now particularly interested to see how feasible the various proposals are from Ofsted subject reports and DfE plans like the new music plan. I’m therefore repeating a near-identical survey and asking colleagues to complete it again. It’s quite lengthy, as there is no easy way to compare timetables in primary where the structures of each week are so different. I’ve therefore done my best to ask one or two questions about each subject to get a measure of things.

I would therefore be most grateful for 5 minutes of your time to think about how you currently fit things into your primary classroom timetable:

Primary Curriculum Timetabling Survey form


Another damned expectation

I think one of the most useful qualities a headteacher can have is the ability to leave concerns behind at work. It’s never perfect – as I’m sure my family would attest – but if as a class teacher you find it hard to stop thinking about work in the evenings and weekends, then headship will only add to that challenge.

This weekend’s publication of a plan for music education feels like it was deliberately sent to test that ability.

True, you could say: never look at the news at weekends and never check your emails, but it’s not realistic. And so, early on Saturday morning I was presented with yet another document from the DfE telling me I’m failing. For that is how it feels.

Schools are different, so whatever you do, there will always be some school doing something better. Indeed because of the sheer volume of schools, you can usually guarantee that literally anything you do in a school will be done better somewhere. But as a head, so long as you can look at your own school and feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to offer the best deal on your priorities, you can live with that knowledge.

It becomes much harder when the government handpicks a small selection of examples and then tells every school in the land that what was the exemplar is now the expectation. It becomes an impossible task.

A couple of the case study examples in the new music plan talk about £20,000 annual budgets for music education in their schools. I just don’t have that money available. When I looked, half of the schools mentioned receive over £1000 more per pupil than my school: if someone put an extra £300,000 into my school next year, rest assured I’d find £20,000 for music!

Some of the (mostly urban) schools appear to be full, or even over subscribed. If each of my classes of 26 or 27 suddenly became 30, I might have another £60,000 in my budget which could certainly help music provision. But short of attempting to poach children from neighbouring villages or encourage more baby-making locally, there aren’t many options on that front.

None of which is to criticise what those schools achieve. The sharing of their practice is to be welcomed. We can always learn from other schools’ approaches, and can always strive to match those offers. But it’s not a level playing field.

So for government documents to state things like

The case studies included with this plan illustrate how excellent music education is being delivered now across the country within existing school budgets

is at best, unhelpful, and in truth disingenuous. Yet the DfE has chosen to all but insist that schools now create plans to bring their music curriculum up to the standard on offer in those schools.

Or, in fact beyond it. Even in their exemplar schools, not every one of the DfE’s bullet point list is met. Now you might argue that it’s important to be aspirational, but at what point are we setting people up to fail?

Music isn’t the only priority in schools. In the current climate, the massively underfunded need for recovery from the pandemic often tops the list; the near collapse of mental health services places a huge cost on schools both in terms of time and funding; demands for 90% attainment in English and maths will absorb both time and money. And neither of these things are in plentiful supply.

There isn’t a primary head in the land who wouldn’t like to give every child the opportunity to become proficient at piano. But for many, their first priority is ensuring that every child is fed, in a safe home, attending school in the first place, and hopefully mastering the basics that will set them up for their next steps.

None of that will be improved by a music development plan. Yet now school leaders will be forced to take time and money for other priorities to focus on this.

It’s demands like this that make me wonder how long the job is sustainable. Not because I don’t want to improve music education, but because I’m tired of constantly failing.

I’ve failed to get every child to attend school regularly.

I’ve failed to get 90% of my school working at the expected standard in maths.

I’ve failed to provide enough curriculum time for whatever subject Ofsted has lately pronounced upon.

And now I’ve failed to ensure that my school has enough practice rooms for music.

Never mind the fact that it doesn’t have enough space to provide calming spaces for all those children who need them because a special school place can’t be found for them. Never mind the fact that we don’t have enough teaching spaces to deliver decent interventions for those who desperately need to catch up. Never mind the fact that half of school leaders’ time is taken up with plugging the gaps left by failing local authority children’s services.

Now I must write a plan for how I’m going to create new practice rooms. Oh, and remove some teaching time from another subject to make room for more music lessons. Quite which subject they think we’re teaching too much of, I don’t know!

For me, this is the stuff that makes the job intolerable. I don’t mind there being SATs or an inspectorate. I can live with having to balance a challenging budget so long as it’s enough to pay for the basics. I can even cope with being on call on Christmas Eve to fill the gaps in the government’s pandemic strategy. But I’m tired of constantly being told to do more.

It’s exhausting to be told time and again that because one school has managed some accomplishment in some tiny part of their overall role, that we must now all do the same and more “within existing school budgets”.

When my time comes to jack it all in and walk, it won’t be the behaviour, or the parents, or the SATs that push me over the edge: it’ll be another damned expectation.

Why all the opposition to phonics?

I live on the south coast of England, but occasionally visit family in the Midlands. When we go, we almost always use the motorways as the fastest and most efficient way of getting there. There are downsides to this: they’re not especially scenic, don’t have much variety and certainly don’t entertain the children. But on balance, they’re the best option.

You might say that we choose motorways first and foremost.

Other routes are available. People managed perfectly well to reach the Midlands before motorways existed. Certainly other routes could provide a more varied diet of scenery and stop-offs, but overall, motorways do the job of getting us where we need to be so we can focus on our main goal of enjoyment.

This is the thing with efficient routes: they don’t need to be perfect, just predictably more effective than others.

Enter the phonics debate.

I’m not so interested in the research arguments here, but rather the teacher opposition. Not that any teacher opposes phonics in its entirety; rather there seems to be some considerable opposition to the “first and foremost” or prioritisation of phonics teaching. And some confusion about exclusivity and fidelity.

One of the greatest challenges, I think, is that systematic phonics programmes can be… Well, quite dull to teach. The repetitive structure, the very basic units of knowledge, the limited story vocabulary – none of it is as thrilling as reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with an excitable class of five-year-olds. So as a teacher, if you believe that reading good stories is out of fashion because of phonics, then you’d understandably be frustrated, much like most drivers would rather not spend their whole lives on the motorway and never visit a country park.

Of course, whether teachers enjoy teaching sessions is secondary to whether they’re effective for the children learning. It is though, understandable if teachers fear that the joy will be sapped from the role because phonics is all that’s permitted.

But that’s eminently not what any proponent of phonics or the DfE or Ofsted have ever proposed. The DfE’s reading framework clearly prioritises reading aloud from great literature, sharing stories and developing comprehension. All of these things are needed in addition to phonics, and any suggestion that they’re forced out is a failing of individual schools or teachers.

None of this makes the phonics teaching any more thrilling for the teacher, any more than I might revel in travelling up the M1. But in combination with other engaging activities the motorway still remains the most obvious route.

But other routes are available

I’ve been told this a lot this week: other strategies exist, other strategies work, some children struggle with phonics, children learnt to read “before” phonics etc. (As though phonics were invented in the 1990s as opposed to being are the very heart of how our writing system works).

Well, the A1 exists, but it would take unusual circumstances for me to choose it as my route North. That’s not to say it never happens. From a very small part of the world, the A1 makes sense, but you can guarantee that the vast majority benefit from the motorways. Indeed, highways planners increasingly make the A1 more like a motorway for good reason.

Equally, many people struggle to access a motorway as first, but that doesn’t mean we just say motorways don’t work for them. You can guarantee that even if they start on a bumpy farm track, for most long-distance travelling they’ll still aim for a motorway.

So yes, there are special circumstances where phonics doesn’t lead to reading mastery straight away, but that isn’t good grounds for abandoning it long term. And in a few exceptional cases, phonics teaching might not serve a few individuals, but that’s true of all teaching: we don’t abandon the effective routes for all, but rather provide the additional support for those who need it.

But children learnt to read before phonics.

Well, not in English they didn’t. Our whole writing system is predicated on the principle of written symbols representing sounds. Sure, it’s inefficient with all its duplication and variation, but I don’t see anyone seriously proposing a change to orthography, so it’s what we’re stuck with.

What people usually mean was that children learnt to read before phonics teaching was so heavily pushed, and that is certainly true. But then, people got to Nottingham before the M1 existed: this isn’t a good reason to eschew motorways now.

But Ofsted say you have to use phonics alone

No, they don’t.

No, really, they don’t. There are a couple of really clear statements in the handbook about how judgements are reached, including considering how:

  • staff develop children’s love of reading through reading aloud and telling stories and rhymes
  • stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction are chosen for reading to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and love of reading. Pupils are familiar with and enjoy listening to a wide range of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction

Comprehension and reading for enjoyment are also central to the National Curriculum, so failure to address those elements would be unlawful for most primary schools.

What people say here is often based on either misunderstanding or – more often – being misinformed.

What is clear is that ofsted do expect a clear structured programme for phonics. Not necessarily a bought-in one, but not a jumble of schemes. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your own resources, or even a combination of resources – but that needs great care. But what does this “fidelity” argument really mean?

Nowhere does anything say you most follow one scheme and do nothing else. But equally, it is clear that we mustn’t muddle things. It’s no good teaching children the Read, Write, Inc sequence of correspondences (that starts with m, a, s, t, d) if you then use a set of early reading books that follow the Letters and Sounds that introduces s, a, t, p first.

And of course it makes sense that the books we give children to read independently are those which contain the sounds the know. Just as any parent would rightly be frustrated if the Y5 teacher sent home algebra homework without ever teaching the skills in maths lessons. That’s not to say that children must read only tedious ditties based on limited letters – far from it. They should have plenty of opportunities for sharing great stories; we just wouldn’t expect them to read them independently.

The issues raised in ofsted reports are not criticising schools for letting children see good books, but those who fail to ensure that they’re not being set up to fail by being asked to read books independently which are beyond their ken – or not giving them any opportunity to read independently at all.

Equally, if schools are properly providing decodable books, then teaching multi-cueing strategies in unnecessary as much as it is unhelpful. After all, my SatNav doesn’t tell me about traffic on the A1 as I fly past Watford Gap services.

But the phonics check

I’m indifferent here. It probably served a purpose in moving schools towards phonics, I suspect it’s outlived its usefulness in guiding behaviour now, other than to have more unhelpful effects (like making people teach alien words). But it’s perfectly possibly to oppose the check without having to abandon the approach to phonics altogether.

So where’s the disagreement?

As far as I can tell, nobody is arguing that we shouldn’t teach phonics.

Nobody is suggesting that phonics isn’t integral to reading.

Nobody has said that children shouldn’t be introduced to great books or poetry.

Nobody has forced schools to buy anything.

Nobody has said that phonics is the golden bullet for all children.

So rather like the motorway to the Midlands, don’t we all agree that first and foremost makes sense?

Philip Collins: right, but also wrong.

This week in The Times, Philip Collins (not the Genesis guy) set out his master plan for getting children back to school. Given that I want nothing more than to get my school back to normal, I was interested to see what he had to say. As always, there is much that is worth noting, but also – as so often – much which misunderstands (or ignores) reality.

So what did he say?

Boris should not “sack Gavin Williamson so much as overwhelm him”

As far as I can tell, this has pretty much already happened. Too much of the confusion and chaos has come about because Number 10 announces things without enough consultation with the DfE – and then schools are faced with a constant bombardment of updated policy as the civil servants try to catch up.

Explain how Danish and German schools have been able to reopen without a spike in infections.

Well, first of all it appears that one of the things Denmark and Germany have done is to limit the spread and impact of the virus such that their additional excess deaths to around 6% of the normal amount, compared to nearly 60% in the UK. I’d say there’s definitely something we could learn here. It’s also notable that their deaths per capita are less than 1/5 of those in the UK. But presumably that’s not what Mr Collins had in mind?

In Germany, most areas are teaching classes in half-size groups (just like the UK), while in Saxony where they proposed full classes, a campaign by parents has led to attendance being made optional.

It seems that in Denmark they started with groups of fewer than 10, and have now allowed up to 15 – exactly what’s happened in UK primaries. In some cases it appears that schools have therefore recruited significantly more teachers; that will be a tall order in the UK where recruitment is tough as it is, but if the government can fund it, I know schools like mine would gladly have more teachers to get more children in.

It seems that at best, what we can learn is that it might be possible to extend the existing model being used in primary schools into secondary schools.

Let’s convert other premises to make schooling consistent with the rules on social distancing

That’s a reasonable suggestion to start with. It might have been easier if government funding hadn’t reduced the number of public buildings available for such things, whether that’s libraries or sure start centres. But perhaps Mr Collins had other buildings in mind? I’ve no objection in principle, and I’m happy to put in the work to safeguarding, risk assessments, etc. if the government will fund the additional staffing. Because, of course, we’re still talking about doubling the numbers of groups. How do we solve that?

Let’s call up an army of retired teachers as we did with the NHS at the height of the pandemic. 

Apparently around 15,000 NHS staff volunteered to rejoin the frontline.

We currently have around 425,000 teachers in England, and around 8 million pupils. If we are to have class sizes of 15, even if we were able to remove all duplication (PPA cover, SENCo work, headteachers’ admin, etc.) , we’d still need another 100,000 teachers overnight. That’s quite an army of the over-60s we need.

Split the primary school day in two with half the pupils attending in the morning and half in the afternoon, with a voucher each for lunch.

I’m not sure how Mr Collins would imagine this working for parents. There probably aren’t that many jobs where families can work half-days. But it’s not an impossible approach to have primary schools operating on some sort of rota. Indeed, many wanted to until the government ruled it out – and some still have.

Given the need to clean in between different groups using spaces, a better plan might be to offer either alternative weeks, or at least half-weeks of in-school education, complemented by home learning for the other days – but it’s certainly not going to get the nation’s workforce back on the job straight away.

The government needs to set a minimum expectation that all schools must provide for each of the key stages of education

We call that the National Curriculum, but if his argument that we need to thin it for the duration, I’m open to that possibility. I think in reality what he means is that there needs to be clear guidance on expectations for home learning. I’m all in favour of that, too, so long as every family has access – which they certainly don’t at the moment.

State schools could be partnered with private schools to maximise that part of the curriculum which is still online

I don’t know what this means but it probably sounds like a solution. There are already excellent things happening in the state sector, such as the Oak National Academy. But again, the main hurdle here is access. If every child needs internet access, then we need a lot more broadband connections, devices and support for families.

Head teachers would then be charged with guaranteeing that all their pupils had the technological facility to do their work.

Ah, I see… it’s my problem to solve. That’s great. I can do that. I would say that it would be easier if the government managed it centrally, but their track record on getting devices to the most needy has been a disappointment at best. But yes, make it my responsibility and give me the money, and I’ll get it done.

A special fund, added to the pupil premium for poorer children, must be made available to provide this.

That would work. But let’s not imagine that it’s just those children who are eligible for pupil premium who need this support. Families who are otherwise reasonably financially comfortable don’t necessarily have enough devices for everyone in their household. This is a big spend Mr Collins is talking about. I guess it’s easy to come up with solutions when you’re not responsible for the purse strings.

Scrap the summer holiday, for at least this one extraordinary year.

Mr Collins appears to think that “this extra effort will be a sacrifice for teachers, who ought to be compensated accordingly, but the great majority will want to do the right thing”. Teachers do want to do the right thing, but they also want to see their families, spend time with their own children and have a break. For school leaders particularly, this academic year has been pretty much non-stop since Christmas and headteachers are already showing 10 percentage point increase in feelings of burn-out. Unless Mr Collins is expecting the newly-returned retirees to take on these roles, I’d suggest that it’s quite a risk to push heads much further.

Apparently, “plans for summer schools are well advanced in Belgium”. I can’t find any information about these, but @MsVCooke directed me towards this article on Summer Camps. If that is what Mr Collins is referring to, then I think he may be expecting a lot if he thinks such schemes would “close the gap”.

The school year is usually 190 days. Next year it should be 210.

There’s an argument for this. Although, of course, as Mr Collins says teachers will need compensating for a significant increase in their teaching hours. Again, if the money is there, then I’m sure the profession is open to the discussion. But that’s a big ‘if’

Of course, it’s worth noting that Mr Collins is basing much of his thinking on evidence from the US, where there are already two fewer weeks of learning, and almost double the length of the summer holidays.

In some cases, the rules about a child repeating a year could be relaxed. 

I don’t know what he thinks the rules are, but given that the rules are that such decisions are made on children’s best interests, that seems a pretty sensible approach.

All children who are beginning secondary school in the autumn should be tested, to assess what maths and English help they may need.

Why only those beginning secondary? Surely all schools should be assessing all pupils to find out what help they need. Whether that’s through tests is probably a decision best left to teachers.

The government should establish a national tutoring service with help targeted in maths and in English, offered in the final year of primary school and the first years of secondary school, the critical phase for learning.

Eh? Who says that’s “the critical phase”?

But that oddity aside, I’ve no objection to a national tutoring service. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell there’s no indication from Mr Collins who will be staffing this service. Are we engaging all those thousands of retired teachers desperate to ditch their retirement?

Mr Collins does note that “good tuition can boost a child’s learning by the equivalent of five months”. He didn’t mention the cost of £700 per pupil from the same source. Presumably that’s all part of the funding he imagines the government is preparing to throw at schools?

It is astonishing that, months into this crisis, there is no evident plan.

I couldn’t agree more. I want to hear from the government about the viability of having all primary school pupils back in class from September. I want to hear how they believe they could safely manage an increased number of secondary-aged pupils in school, and what support they’ll give to families who need now to be able to engage with learning from home in a way that’s never been possible before.

I’d love to hear Gavin Williamson announce the sorts of levels of funding that Mr Collins seems to think are on the horizon. But his suggestion that the first part of the solution is to “Divide and rule” is misguided.  Teachers are not opposed to sensible thinking, high levels of investment, and getting their jobs back to normal: the barriers are elsewhere.

To have written a more accurate and constructive article, Mr Collins might have been best simply to say that what Boris should do is to invest massively in teachers, schools, technology and disadvantaged families. An approach like that would knock spots off a couple of extra weeks in school every summer.




Are teachers paid for the holidays?

As Boris Johnson should say more often: everything I’m about to say applies to England only.

Of course, equally, academies are free to set their own terms and conditions so may have imposed other terms on staff.

So, are teachers paid for the holidays?

Well, the short answer is Yes. But that’s not an entirely popular answer. There’s a (perfectly understandable) misconception that teachers are only paid for their teaching weeks, and that this pay is then spread over 12 months for convenience.

When I suggested otherwise, I brought an onslaught of opposition – mostly perfectly polite. Obviously one person exclaimed that they’d hate to work for me, so that’s a lucky escape for at least one of us.

Teachers’ conditions are notoriously tricky, so I’ll try to set out all the many reasons why I think it’s clear that teachers are paid for the holidays, but before I do, let me be clear what I’m not saying.

  • I don’t think teachers should work through their holidays this summer
  • I don’t think teachers are paid too much.
  • I don’t think teachers don’t work in the holidays
  • I don’t think teaching is easy, or that teachers only work 9-3
  • I don’t think that being paid for the holidays means we’re being paid for 13 weeks of doing nothing.

It’s also worth noting that when teachers pay scales are set, the fact that we have good holidays will be factored in to that to some extent.

However, none of that changes the fact that teachers pay is not pro-rata and then spread across the year: we are paid all year round, including receiving 13 weeks paid holidays.

So where’s the evidence?

School Teachers Pay & Conditions Document

The STPCD is remarkably unhelpful on this, because the only limits set on teachers hours are the 1265-hour limit on directed time. This is the calculation of the hours that headteachers can direct teachers’ work and includes teaching, assemblies, PPA, duties, meetings, etc. Basically anything that requires you to be in school.

But paragraph 51.7 also makes clear that this is not the maximum amount of time a teacher must work; far from it. Teachers must work whatever reasonable additional hours are necessary. So, clearly teachers must be paid for more than 1265 hours work.

Now, let me also be clear that I think there’s a massive workload problem in the profession, but that’s not because of our pay & conditions; it’s because of poor leadership that demands more of teachers than is helpful or necessary.

But anyway, if there isn’t a 1265-hour limit, perhaps the 195 days is what matters? Could it be that teachers are paid for 195 days and not for all the others?

Burgundy Book

Most teachers, even those in academies, are still employed under the Burgundy Book conditions, or a very similar set of arrangements.

Again, unfortunately, the conditions are not explicit about holiday, but there is something of relevance here. If a teacher is permitted to take unpaid leave (or has to have a day’s unpaid leave because of strike action), then the deduction made from the salary is 1/365th of that teacher’s annual salary. This is because salary is accumulated in equal instalments of 1/365th each day of employment. 

This particular example was tested when a sixth form college tried to deduct 1/260th of pay for strike days (based on 260 weekdays a year), and the case referred to the Burgundy Book which clearly sets out the requirement.

So, it’s clear that when it comes to deductions from pay, we are treated as being paid 1/365th of our salary for each day of the year, regardless of whether it’s a teaching day or holiday day.

That’s not to say that teachers can be made to work 365 days a year, any more than any employee can be made to work on their holiday days; but it does make clear that pay accrues daily.

It’s tempting to conclude that this is all because teachers’ pay is spread across 12 months but there are several other examples of practice which suggests that pay is year-round for teachers. 

Comparisons to other school staff

There are many school staff who are on term-time only contracts. These staff usually are paid for only the weeks they work, plus their statutory leave entitlement. They end up on a “pro rata” salary, even if they work full-time hours during their working weeks.

When a teaching assistant, office administrator or school business manager post is advertised, if it is a term-time only contract, the employee will not earn the same as other full-time staff who work for local authorities on the identical pay scale.

This is what teachers often think happens, but teachers’ pay is not calculated this way at all. It explains why a teacher who works the whole of the autumn term, which could feasibly be 15 teaching weeks, gets exactly the same 4 months pay as a teacher who works a term from 1 May to 31 August, with as little 10 weeks teaching.

Ask any school business manager how complicated it can get calculating a teaching assistant’s final pay packet!

Comparison to school leaders

The 1265-hour/195-day limits only apply to main/upper scale teachers. Once a teacher moves onto the leadership scale, those limits are removed. But as many teachers who have made the move into leadership will know, the gap between those scales is not large.

In fact, a teacher on UPS3 and a small TLR might be earning around £43,000. Moving on to the first 2 points of the leadership scale means taking a pay cut, while at the same time losing that protected limit on time. But with the removal of the 195 day limit, school leaders don’t get a different holiday entitlement, or a significant uplift in pay to reflect their year-round status, because it’s no different from other teachers.

Teachers on the leadership scale are still entitled to their legal minimum of holiday, and must still take it during the 13 closure weeks for which they are paid.

Legal Entitlement

Firstly, all employees in the UK are entitled to the equivalent of 5.6 weeks of paid leave. So somewhere in teachers’ paid holidays must be those 5.6 weeks (or their pro rata equivalent if your argument is that we’re not paid for 52 weeks). 

If it were the case that teachers were actually paid for the legal minimum of holiday entitlement, then something would have had to have changed in 2009. Up until then, the legal entitlement was 24 days (which can include bank holidays). When it changed to 28 days, teachers would have been entitled to an additional 4 days pay. But they weren’t, because they are considered already to have 13 weeks’ paid leave, in excess of the statutory minimum.

This is partly the cause of the confusion: because teachers can take anything between 5.6 weeks and 13 weeks paid leave, there is no need to specify exactly how much leave is taken; teachers are left to make their own judgments on the matter.

[In fact, you can pretty much guarantee that any effort to pin this down would be to the detriment of teachers]

Comparisons to other professions

Setting the 2009 change aside, if teachers are only paid for, say, 44 weeks a year (39 school weeks + 5 weeks holiday), then we need to account for that in salary scales. Either we can argue that teachers start on a disappointing salary of £24,373, or that teachers are paid pro-rata their actual salary of £28,164.

Now you might argue that that’s still not high enough, but we can’t as a profession claim that we’re not being paid for the holidays, and claim the lower pay rate.

My personal view is that being paid for the 13-weeks holidays is reasonable because teachers work very long hours in term time. I think any argument about pay and conditions would be better focused on workload, or raising pay based on it being for all 52 weeks.

What about supply teachers?

It’s true that supply teachers who are paid through a local authority or school are entitled to 1/195th of the annual salary for each day worked. That’s not because all teachers are only paid that way, but because – as with all jobs – people doing equivalent jobs shouldn’t be disadvantaged just because they’re part-time or supply. A supply teacher teaching 195 days is entitled to the same annual pay as a teacher teaching 195 days. Their holiday pay is wrapped up in the daily rate.

But my payslips says…

I *think* mine says 32.5 hours. Some people say theirs say 27.5, or 26… or some other number. Given that most teachers are employed under the same rules, that should in itself highlight how meaningless those figures are.

They’ll almost all be based on some random calculation of the 1265 hours, which we’ve already ruled out as being relevant. I guess the reason your payslip says whatever it says is because no payroll software allows them to enter “all the hours under the sun” in that box.

Yeah, but, what do you know?

It’s true: I’m just some bloke of Twitter. You might still think I’m wrong. In which case, you could refer to the NEU who point out in their guidance for support staff that teachers are paid for a full year:


Or you could refer to Croner-i (the business & HR experts) who make clear that non-teaching days are regarded as paid leave:


Teachers work really long hours, though, including in the holidays

Yes. None of this affects the fact that teachers work hard in term time, and continue to work through the holidays.

Most of the data suggests that teachers typically work around 50 hours a week in term time, well above the 1265 directed hours, and above the working hours of the typical employee. 

You might reasonably argue that in working such long hours over fewer weeks, that teachers work a similar number of hours overall to any other profession of similar standing – or possibly more. 

You might also reasonably argue that teachers deserve the longer paid holidays to make up for the very long hours.

You can also argue that teachers’ pay rates are held down because of the perception of the good holidays, and that we need to challenge that and raise teacher pay.

But that doesn’t change the fact that teachers are paid for their holidays.

The safety of quarantine

I don’t know quite why I’m writing this (or swiping it on my phone, anyway). Maybe for posterity? Maybe just because it’ll be cathartic. Hopefully.

Little more than a couple of weeks ago, I was leading a school as it set out to take care of key worker children, and coping with the challenge of an ever-changing landscape, while planning for potential staff absence. In the end, the absence has been my own after a feverish toddler led us into insolation for 14 days.

And while I wasn’t looking, the world changed.

I sort of knew this. I’ve watched the news and seen the photographs. I’ve heard plenty about it. But emerging from our quarantine today to pay my first visit to Tesco has felt genuinely harrowing.

Just a fortnight ago when our son developed a fever, I wasn’t concerned. We rang 111, mainly because it’s what the website told us to do. We didn’t suspect coronavirus, but we did our bit and isolated because it’s what the advice said, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. My school continued to run perfectly well in my absence, as a brilliant staff team picked up the reins and continued to serve the community. Meanwhile, we prepared for 14 days of potential boredom, frustration, and regretting the fact that we’d not done a “big shop”.

Today, we started planning for our “release”. At 8pm we joined neighbours to applaud, and then I headed off to the supermarket. And something previously so mundane, so routine, made me nervous. My last trips just a couple of weeks ago had involved some empty shelves, but nothing has worried me about it. This was different.

I no longer was sure I know how supermarkets worked. Rather like coming to buy petrol in a foreign country, while everything looked vaguely familiar, I was in fear of getting something wrong.

Normally I take our son shopping, but this time my venture into the parent and child parking area wasn’t to park, but to queue – at least two metres apart from everyone else. I knew this was likely, but seeing it, being part of it, made me wobble. Part of me wanted to joke about it with my not-so-nearby queueing compatriots… But it wasn’t the time for the. Instead, I just stared, deciding not to cry. Outside a supermarket. A supermarket that I’ve visited a thousand times.

So much of what the trip involved felt vaguely foolish. Had I seen an anti-bac station next to the trolleys three months ago I’d have thought it absurd. Tonight I waited at a distance, watching someone else spray the handles of their trolley, observing them as I once used to watch adults dealing with payment cards or writing cheques, knowing that I too would soon join the world.

Inside I panicked sightly about whether I was allowed to use the self-scanner, or whether I could head directly to bananas without breaking the rules about distance and direction. This place that I knew so well felt so alien to me. And all around me were others. Others who I had good reason to fear, while knowing that they, too, had reason to fear me.

I glanced at the list I’d prepared, knowing that sequence would matter tonight, and all the while grateful that it was relatively quiet in the store. Goodness knows how anybody copes at peak times. I can only presume that if you miss something, you go without. Even at this quiet hour, people were everywhere: hazards to be avoided at all costs.

And again there were more rules that I wasn’t sure about. Our son still has some formula milk each night, but am I allowed to buy a week’s worth? If I do will it look greedy? Is it greedy? Am I depriving someone more needy?

And then there’s the staff. I’ve no idea if there were more or fewer staff than normal; I’ve never taken the time to notice before, but I noticed every one tonight. In aisle after aisle I passed them, unwrapping pallets of baked beans, or re-stocking the frozen peas. My urge to thank them simply for being there overruled by my British need to keep to myself. The knowledge that I needed to steer clear of them – for all our sakes – battling with the strange temptation to reach out and shake every hand. I wonder if they suffer the same constant contrasts, shifting from “just getting on with the job” to feeling like every movement presents a risk.

For how many of them is the risk calculated? Who has decided that the possibility of being struck down is outweighed by the need to bring home a wage. How many times today have they felt a customer just too close for comfort, and suddenly thought about their loved ones? How many of them heard the clapping at 8 o’clock and ever thought that any of it was for them?

As if to illustrate the international debate about masks, it was the masked patrons who seemed least concerned about maintaining physical distance; the rest of us adapting our route or our gait to accommodate their indifferent roaming. A few awkward moments shared, as we smile at one another at the absurdity of it all, while all the while planning our next steps to avoid proximity all the same.

I must have thanked every member of that staff several times as I passed, but only ever in my head, as though somehow saying it out loud would bring home the enormity of what they were doing in a way that might be too much for either of us to bear. Or for me anyway. Maybe it was selfishness that prevented me from committing those words to an audience.

By the time I reached the till, some normality returned. I know how to work these machines now, though they’ve defeated me in the past. But even the absence of the little blue counters brings home how nothing is the same at the moment. Normality is on hold, at least for now.

Maybe things won’t ever quite go back. Maybe there’ll come a time when I tell my son of the days when till staff weren’t behind plastic screens, and nobody disinfected their trolley.

And it’s that thought that truly hammers home the horror of it all. Two weeks ago when he had a fever, it felt like admin to be going into self-isolation. We were following the rules, but had nothing to worry about.

Now I wonder when I’ll next feel safe enough to take my child into a supermarket.

Letter from Gavin Williamson

Just publishing this here until the DfE get it up on their website:

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, has asked for this message to be passed to all those who work in the education sector

The government recognises the huge importance of the role you have played in maintaining the education, training and social care of our children and young people during this challenging time. I recognise that you will have the same anxieties as the rest of the country about your health and that of your families. On behalf of the Prime Minister and the entire government, I thank you all for all of your work so far, and your continued support. I am deeply grateful for the civic spirit and dedication of everyone working in education, and I will continue to provide my full support throughout this crisis.

Next steps

It is clear that education and children’s social care settings are increasingly finding it difficult to continue as normal, as illness and self-isolation impacts on staffing levels and pupil attendance. To provide parents, student and staff with the certainty they need we are announcing that schools, colleges and early years settings will be closed to everyone except children of key workers and vulnerable children from Monday, as part of the country’s ongoing response to coronavirus.

Examples of these workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers who need to be able to go to work. Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with Education, Health and Care Plans.

A full list of key worker categories will be published by the Cabinet Office tomorrow.

Children who do not fall into these groups should remain at home with appropriate care.

Where schools are unable to provide this reduced provision, local authorities will work with the Department for Education’s regional teams to ensure an alternative option is available.

We are expecting early years providers and sixth form and further education colleges to do the same. We are working with Her Majesty’s Treasury on the financial support required. We are also asking that independent schools and boarding schools follow the same approach.

Where possible, we would encourage settings to stay open for this purpose throughout the Easter holidays.

Many universities and other higher education institutions are already taking necessary steps to keep their staff and students safe and where possible keep providing education. We are confident vice-chancellors are making the right decisions and the Department for Education continues to support them in doing so.

Temporary suspension of Ofsted inspections

Ofsted is to temporarily suspend routine inspections of schools, colleges, early years settings, children’s social care providers and local authorities to reduce the burden on staff who are providing vital services to the nation in response to coronavirus.

Update on assessments and examinations

We can confirm that we will not go ahead with assessments or exams, and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year.

We will work with the sector and Ofqual to ensure children get the qualifications they need.

My Department is working closely with local authorities, representatives of early years, schools and head teachers, regional school commissioners and bodies such as Ofsted and Ofqual about how to deliver this change as effectively as possible.

And we will do whatever is necessary to support local authorities, settings, schools and teachers through the weeks and months ahead.

Free school meal provision

We will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children eligible for free school meals. Some schools are already doing this, and we will reimburse the costs. As soon as possible, we will put in place a national voucher system.

Thank you once again for everything you are doing at this difficult time.

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP

Secretary of State for Education

Primary Curriculum Timetabling

As I look to timetabling in the new school year, I reflected on the work Tom Sherrington did a few years ago about secondary timetables. Unfortunately, the primary curriculum timetable is not so easy to analyse, given that very few schools stick to a simple programme of x lessons of equal length per day, and few teach every lesson every week – or even every fortnight, as would be common in secondary.

Because of this, it’s much harder to get a sense of how much time schools are giving over to each subject, particularly given the changes of recent years and those on the horizon. So, I set out to try to find out as much as I could, through another of my Google surveys.

It’s impossible to present all of that information tidily, since every school’s situation is unique, but here I’ve tried to draw out some key things.

Weekly subject hours

Different schools take different approaches. Three different schools might offer 36 hours of Art each year, with one offering a weekly 1-hour lesson, another having two hours every other week, with a third having two-hour lessons every week, but only every other half-term. Yet another might mainly use Art days each term to reach its quota. So we’re not comparing like with like, here, but the table below attempts to show the average number of hours taught for each subject if evened out over 36 weeks of term (allowing a couple of weeks for being off-timetable) – all rounded to the nearest 5 minutes.

I don’t imagine anyone being massively surprised by any of those figures, but it certainly gives an indication of the narrowing of the primary curriculum. When the QCA last recommended teaching hours in 2002, it suggested an average of 55 minutes a week for the majority of foundation subjects. We’re now struggling to get above 30 for Geography!


Perhaps more surprising is the fact that although there is more time given to the tested subjects in Year 6, the decline in ‘breadth’ is not huge. It seems that the curriculum is fairly limited across the whole of primary.rangeThe greatest breadth in curriculum, at least in timetable terms, appears to be in Year 3.


Some years ago there was a clear government target for primary pupils to have at least 2 hours of timetabled PE each week. It seems that the target has achieved something, as it is the only foundation subject which has ended up with significantly more than its previously recommended amount (which was 1 hour 15 minutes in 2002). It’s also one of the few subjects with weekly slots, with 98% of responses saying they taught PE every week, with nearly 90% having more than 90 minutes of PE each week.


The only subject that comes close to regular weekly slots is Science, with around 2/3 of respondents saying they taught Science every week.


At the other end of the scale, Design & Technology is very rarely taught on a weekly schedule. This is perhaps not surprising given the amount of resource required for the subject. Nearly a third of schools appear to use standalone days each term or half-term for the subject instead:


Exceptional Cases

I didn’t collect exact data, but only in categories, so of those schools who said they had 7½ or more hours each week of English or Maths, I could only count the 7½ hours. In the end, more than half of responses (52%) gave an answer of 7½ hours a week or more for English. It seems, therefore, if anything that the above are under-estimates of the time given over t o English.

Only about 10% of schools gave a similarly high answer for Maths, but this is still quite a significant number. Those figures rise to 57% and 16% each for pupils in Year 6.

At the other end of the scale, approximately 5% of responses said that they gave over no time to PSHE. The subject is not yet statutory, so presumably that figure will fall over the coming year or two. Around 4% of responses said they taught no Computing at all; I wonder if that’s more a confidence issue than a planned decision. Who knows?



Multiplication Tables Check Comparison Data

As ever with such things, it is important to point out that this data is not a scientific sample, has not been verified, and could be completely meaningless. However, in the absence of any comparative data from the DfE, it is an attempt to give some vague indication of the national picture of schools that took part in the MTC sample.

At the time of writing, some 211 sets of data had been submitted to the open spreadsheet online. Because it’s an open spreadsheet, there’s no guarantee that it doesn’t have errors, or that some data hasn’t been damaged, or even completely made up. With that in mind, I have completed some very simple calculations based on the data to give some idea of indicative figures.

Overall Averages

The mean average of all pupils’ results was 18.4

The mean average of all schools’ averages was also 18.4

The following table shows the approximate cut-off points when comparing schools’ averages, to place schools into bands.


Perfect Scores

There was talk at one point of full marks being the expect threshold. It’s no longer clear that this is the case, or even that there will be a pass mark of any sort at all, but within the sample:

Overall proportion scoring 25/25: 17.4%

Bands for proportion scoring 25/25:


Pupil Scores

More pupils did score full marks than any other individual score, with scores clearly more likely to be at the top end of the scale.


School Averages

The majority of schools had an average score of between 16 and 20


Does any of this mean anything? Not really… it’s a tiny sample from a voluntary pilot of a new test with no clear expectations hastily compiled from questionable data. But some of it is at least slightly interesting.

Annual reporting to parents – our approach

Having shared our annual report template with a few interested teachers, I thought it was worth sharing the main template more widely. If you’re not interested in reading about it, then feel free to scroll to the bottom just to download the template… I’ll never know 🙂

It’s always struck me as odd that we seem to have contradictory wisdom about the main forms of report to parents. New teachers are always told that there should be “no surprises” at a parents evening. If children are falling behind, or misbehaving, or perhaps failing to complete homework, then parents should already know this rather than finding out in their 10-minute slot.

Why is it then, so many seem to presume the opposite for report-writing, as though parents know nothing of their child’s learning and so need everything spelling out in detail? In truth, most parents receive broadly similar reports year after year, because children don’t change that much.

The need to fill extra lines of content means either repeating the banal detail of what has been taught (regardless of how well it has been learned), or of trying to find minutiae to discuss.

So, when it came to re-working the report template for my current school, I had a few things in mind:

  • I wanted to minimise the amount teachers have to write, while leaving room for comments about the important personal & social detail (the bit parents are really interested in!)
  • I wanted to be clear about where children met – or failed to meet – expectations, and to set clear expectations for excellence.
  • I wanted to give an opportunity to reflect on attainment in all subjects.

So, our report is made up of a number of sections (after the introductory statement):


This is clearly the most important part of the report, not least because this is the section memories are made of. In my school I do ask teachers to write a comment which incorporates the personal/social elements as well as some reference to attainment in the key subjects of English & Maths. It’s also the place to add in detail about any particular skill or expertise in other subject areas.
The whole box takes up to 10 lines – roughly 180 words max.


The subject attainment section is very brief in terms of outcomes, but quite clear for parents. I’m not a fan of the vocabulary of ‘Greater Depth’, but given its use in the statutory assessments, it seems to make sense to use it consistently across the school. Invariably these descriptors are not a great surprise to parents (mine, for example, were never going to expect me to achieve great things in PE!), but where they do highlight something, then parents can of course raise that at the open afternoon that follows shortly after reports are issued.


This section is something I brought with me from a previous school, and we had taken the idea from another school – so if your Nottinghamshire school was the originator, do let me know!
I like it because it’s a clear at-a-glance indicator of key areas of interest, including attendance which can sometimes come as a surprise to parents. I also like the clarity that “Good” is good, but that to be exceptional is, well, exceptional.


There is no doubt that adding a pupil comment creates additional work. I like to keep it as much because I think it’s something for pupils and families to look back on in years to come as it is an insight into their current achievements. It’s also a useful reflective opportunity for older pupils. (Pupils don’t see the rest of the report first; juniors type their entries and they get added electronically; infants write on smaller sheets of paper which are pasted in to the template – achievable in a 1fe school).

As for the targets, I don’t expect anything in-depth or insightful. For most children’s it’s at least one English and one maths target, often linked to key skills that can be practised at home, such as number bonds, key word spellings or regular reading. There might also be a personal/social target if appropriate, or behaviour in some cases. As I say to my staff, though, sometimes it’s also appropriate to put a target that just says “keep up the great work!”


I do manage a headteacher comment for every pupil, but as we only have 200 that’s perhaps more manageable than in some schools. (I haven’t pointed out to my staff that this means I actually write more for reports than any one teacher; I’m not sure the point would go down to well given all the other demands on them!)

Presenting the report

I’m always conscious that school reports are often kept for years, if not generations, and try to present them accordingly. Our template is set up as a 4-page document, which we print onto A3 white card and fold into A4 size. The front cover consists mainly of the large (attractive) logo and pupil name, and the back cover is pretty blank, but I think it makes the whole thing look a whole lot nicer.

As a school, we also currently track Key Performance Indicators in key subjects across the year, and so printed those out to accompany the report last year. I may take soundings from parents this year to see if they value that level of detail; I’m not clear that they would.

I also include a covering letter with reply slip. In theory this helps us to track receipt, but more importantly I hope it gives parents an opportunity to send positive responses and thanks to teachers which they might not otherwise have the opportunity to convey. I still keep some report reply slips from my teaching days – and I ditch others!

The Template

Well done if you read this far. No credit if you just skipped my words of wisdom. I have stripped out the school-specific content from the template (logos, etc.) and uploaded a version here which you are welcome to download, adopt, edit and re-share as you wish. No need to add any credit on the report (it’d look odd for a start!), but I’d be glad to hear if you found it useful.

Okay, I’ll stop… just download the Report Template!