The idea of ‘dedicated headship time’ first appeared when education workforce reform was being looked at more broadly in 2005. The phrase basically means time for a headteacher to discharge the duties of their role. It seems a bit obvious that you need time to do the job you’re being paid to do, but in a poll of over 600 heads I recently conducted on social media 72% said they didn’t take dedicated time. Of course, there are some difficulties with the language. The job of headteacher means different things in different contexts. Some headteachers have a teaching commitment and others don’t. Doing a bit of research, this is what the School Teachers Pay and Conditions document says about dedicated headship time, making it clear that if you are a head who teaches, you need time on top of your PPA to do headship work:
‘A headteacher is entitled to a reasonable amount of time during school sessions, having regard to their teaching responsibilities, for the purpose of discharging their leadership and management responsibilities.’
It’s useful that dedicated time is recognised in this key document, but what is a reasonable amount, and what if you are a head who doesn’t have ‘teaching responsibilities’ as such?
The National Governance Association (NGA), in partnership with various unions and other bodies, says this, which is a bit more helpful:
‘The governing body is expected to grant the headteacher dedicated time for strategic leadership activity, including, where appropriate, time away from their school.’
This is about time for all headteachers, whether they teach or not. It puts the onus on the governing body to monitor and take action on this, and suggests the value of time off-site to work on strategic leadership.
In my poll, mentioned above, 22% of respondents said that they take dedicated headship time away from school. I often hear heads talk about the value of having time off-site during school hours, saying they get more done and take less time to do things. One person said, ‘I get things done in half the time they would take me at school!’
So if it’s so valuable, helps heads to get on top of things and work more efficiently, why doesn’t it happen more often?
For some people, the issue is around having someone to deputise when they’re not there. Budgets have been so tight, and resources trimmed back so hard lately, that it can be difficult to have someone to leave ‘in charge’ in order to take time off-site.
For others, time planned away from school to work on strategic things is the first thing to be dropped when an emergency happens.
But I think the real problem, which underlies this, is a tendency for heads to put themselves last. There’s a tendency to value everyone else’s time and energy more than their own. There’s a sense that working the hardest, taking on the most pressure and being the busiest, goes with the territory of being a head.
All that can lead to a sense of guilt around taking time to discharge the role of headteacher. I know it well, I felt it when I was a head and now I’m a leadership coach, I hear heads (and deputies) talk about it regularly. A client of mine, who only recently became a head, said ‘what will everyone think if I walk out the door during the day?’ The ‘duty of care’ which we rightly have to our school communities can become a burden that’s too hard to carry, which is one of the reasons so many heads are leaving the profession.
I think it needs a reframe. I have always been drawn to the idea of servant leadership, and I do think there is a sense of vocation with teaching and being a headteacher. The truth is, though, that we serve our communities best when we look after ourselves and take the time and space that we need to let go of the day to day running of the school and get strategic.
Dedicated time means space in your day when you can focus on strategic leadership tasks without distraction. It’s time when you don’t have an ‘open door’. That can happen in the school building, if you can arrange it, or off site.
So how can you create dedicated time for yourself, if you don’t currently have it? Here are a few starting points:
1. Talk to your governors/trustees or Trust leaders if you work in a MAT. Ask them to help you problem-solve getting this time. Use the NGA document ‘What governing boards and headteachers should expect from each other’ if necessary.
2. Talk to your staff. Explain to them that the time you spend on strategic things benefits the whole school community e.g. finance work that helps to bring resources, SEF/SDP work that helps the school prepare for inspections and monitoring etc. Tell your staff what it means when you have a sign on your door that says, for example, ‘please don’t disturb me right now unless it’s a real emergency or safeguarding issue’.
3. Remind yourself of the value and importance of your dedicated time. Zoom out and see the bigger picture, beyond the guilt! Remember the things that you need to achieve this year, this term, this week, in order for your school to get to where it needs to be.
Be brave and determined, and keep in mind that you serve your community best when you have the space and time to do your job!
If you’d like to talk through the barriers to having dedicated headship time, a coaching conversation could really help. Follow this link to book in for a free consultation chat.
I have created a resource for headteachers to help manage workload. In it, I explain how you can build in time to reflect and plan, ensuring that you’re prioritising the right things and being as effective as you can. You can find out more about it here.