Trapped: The State Sanctioned Black Market in Professional Time

I was inspired to write this short blog after seeing some slides produced by a friend and colleague, Phil Wood (A founder member of HTRT). It made me think about the term I have chosen for this title and how relevant it is to the work we do in schools today. Put simply, it is impossible to run a successful school without staff working longer than their contracted time.

The expectation associated with accountability means that we have a state sanctioned black market in professional time. There is a reliance on values and an ethic of care that means teachers and support staff will work longer and harder than their contracts dictate, knowing that the children will suffer if they don’t. Leaders know it (they do it too), parents demand it, Ofsted judge it and Unions challenge it. Leaders understand the challenge from unions, feel the force of Ofsted pressure, know parents demand extra and want to do the best they can for their school community. Everyone is trapped!

A few years ago, I walked through my school with a senior Ofsted HMI. As we walked the corridors, chatted to kids, saw teachers doing amazing things and soaked up the wonderful atmosphere, I told him that it was impossible for this school to remain outstanding without the continuous risk of staff burnout and a reliance on goodwill. He agreed!  That was five years ago and we still do it. We still rely on it. We are still judged by it. We are still challenged about it. We still want, and insist on the very best for our children and still remain concerned about staff wellbeing and workload.

Five years ago, I thought it was impossible and unsustainable, but we still rely on an ‘ethic of care’.

So how do we solve it? More money to pay for more people, or for the same people to do more time. It’s so easy. Therefore, when we get loads more money we will be fine. Schools will prosper, excellence will be sustainable, parents will be happy, there will be no staff burn-out, recruitment will be easy, retention secure, unions will cease to challenge and they will champion the schools’ ability to manage the wellbeing of their members. Computers will work, roofs won’t leak and leaders will be able to sleep at night. Ofsted will be giving out outstanding grades like there’s no tomorrow.

Or we wake up from our utopian dream and …… there isn’t any more money so we have to accept the state sanctioned black market, and do the best we can with the resources we have.

We therefore need to make sure that we do our very best to make the pressure of work as tolerable, acceptable and rewarding as possible.

Same Time, Less Pressure Leadership Model

The concept of work pressure and time constraints can be linked to a perception rather than purely reality. As leaders, we have a responsibility to give our staff less time pressure rather than demanding from them more work in less time. We need to allow less constraint, encourage professional trust, allow earned autonomy and cease any form of micro-management. Step away from the detail and allow staff the freedom to work. Staff might not get more time but they can certainly feel less time pressure. If we can do this then we can allow our staff to truly enjoy their work. They feel empowered, trusted and valued. The perception of time changes even though the time constraints remain. Ideally, we would have more money too. But, until the day when the government decide to actually fund schools realistically, then we have to cope with the black market as best we can.








Same time, less pressure leadership model:




We must, as leaders understand that reducing workload pressure is not simply a concept of time or money. It is a required cultural change that means staff don’t carry with them a constant sense of being over-burdened.

Thanks to Phil Wood for getting me thinking and reading.


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