Headteachers/Principals: Go on – take a day off

HOLIDAY TIME !! by MyLifeStory.


Earlier this week I met with one of our most experienced and exceptional headteachers who is due to retire at the end of the session.

In a bespoke winding down arrangement we have agreed that she can take ten days unpaid leave during the year.  She has spread these days over the course of the year to provide a number of extended weekends.

The impact on her health and well-being has been incredible and she feels so much more able to undertake her job – to the benefit of herself and the school.

In line with my recent reflection on the mental health and well-being of teachers I wondered if this might be something we could consider in a different kind of arrangement with other headteachers?

Three years ago I moved from being a headteacher to being an educational administrator at East Lothian Council. My holiday entitlement changed from 65 days a year, to 27 days plus public holidays. Yet despite the apparent loss in days the biggest difference has been that I can now take days off when I want – even during term time.  As rule I try to avoid extended periods of absence during term time but I do try to take a number of single days throughout the year to create long weekends.  The result of this is that I can avoid the kind of accumulation of fatigue that used to occur when I was a headteacher.

We currently have a problem recruiting headteachers – people look at the stress involved, the relatively low pay differential between a depute headteacher and headteacher and decide that the negatives outweigh the positives. So with that in mind I’d like to make a suggestion:

What if headteachers could trade in some of the current holiday entitlement for a number of single day holidays which which can be taken during term time?  As a starting point in that negotiation I would suggest that the exchange rate would be two days for one day. So if a headteacher wanted to have five days leave throughout the year during term time they would have to forfeit ten days of their current holiday entitlement.  To be honest I would have gone for something like this as I probably spent that number of days in school during holiday periods trying to catch up and prepare.  From an employer’s perspective we could arrange for a proportion of these forfeited days to be taken at an agreed time and in so doing enable collegiate tasks to be undertaken – e.g. cluster working , particularly if other colleagues were working at the same time.

The issues which would have to be resolved  would be:

Would schools fall to bits without the headteacher being there for a day? – No – certainly not in well managed schools

What would parents think? – I believe they would understand and see it as positive step as long as it was properly explained.

What would staff think?  -There would probably be many teachers who would be upset by such an arrangement but perhaps we need to start to see there being some perks for taking on such a job.

So what would I be saying to headteachers?

Go on – take a day off!!!




6 thoughts on “Headteachers/Principals: Go on – take a day off

  1. Good point. I’d swap flexibility for sheer length of holiday any time! A day off now is worth two in July. But why just head teachers? Also, surely a lot of teachers at all levels work during the summer, either in school or at home, so maybe the thing to do is to rewrite the whole holiday script and have a shorter summer break, but more frequent, evenly distributed days off across the year, for all.

  2. Jim – A good point but I would make it only HTs in recognition of their unique role and as an incentive for future HTS. There are many outstanding Deputes who don’t want to make the final move as they see what it does to HTs.

  3. A colleague, whose dad was also a teacher, recently relayed the following view on teachers’ holidays . His father likened the high pressure context we work in to a deep sea diver working at considerable depths. The diver, on returning to the surface, needs time to ‘de-pressurise’ thus allowing his body to ‘normalise’. He likened this rising to the surface to the first two weeks of teachers’ holidays when we too ‘normalise’. He went on to suggest that if divers can count this recovery time as part of their working hours then so should we as teachers. If we did this, our holiday allocation would amount to around 5 weeks per annum. This is prettly much the norm for many professionals!

  4. Donald – the trouble with the diver metaphor is that it does not take into account the high pressure context which other professionals (and indeed many non-professionals) work in. By the same standards, those people effectively have no holidays at all, and in some cases they would have a negative amount.

    Teachers are not the only people who work in a pressurised environment!

  5. Just to be a total pedant, a diver continues to fizz for at least 24 hours after reaching the surface – why is why, for instance, you can’t fly straight after diving. This time very rarely gets counted as work where I am. In fact, it only gets counted as work if we’re actually working, writing up data, surveying a shore or whatever.

    I would agree completely that people in all sorts of walks of life work in extremely high pressure environments. You want to try working to unrealistic deadlines in a commercial consultancy – I know people who regularly work long hours overtime (unpaid), do overnight stints (ie working over 24 hours at one go) and find it very difficult to get days off. In this sort of commercial environment they rarely have the same job security, annual pay rises or pension benefits etc as the teaching profession, never mind holidays! A lot of middle level consultants will be paid less than a teacher with equivalent or less experience. Life on the outside may look very rosy from a teacher’s perspective but it’s not necessarily like that! It’s just that the pressures are different.

    As for HTs taking days off, this seems like a very sensible idea to me. It is so clearly a different role to that of a classroom teacher with different expectations. If they’re not doing many (any?) classroom hours but are primarily managers, why not? If they’re good at their job the school should not grind to a halt when they’re not there; presumably it doesn’t if they’re off at conferences or meetings. If it keeps their minds fresher for longer, well it would have to be a good thing.

  6. Don,
    I like the idea. It reminds me of the Oddbins mantra when I was an Under-manager (before I became a teacher):

    “You’re only as good as your day off!”

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