I plan on doing a post comparing the different education policies of the three main parties once all three are published (full disclosure – I’m voting Labour and will likely tell you why that policy is my favourite…but am a trained philosopher happy to reach conclusions I don’t want to reach, so shall be as honest in my comparisons as is possible) but in the meantime thought I’d share some random thoughts about this most peculiar part of the academic year: exam time.

Appropriately, I am sharing these thoughts on spur of the moment due to some unexpected “gained time” (I’m early for an appointment, twiddling my thumbs with a fully charged phone…) but gained time is the blissful reward we teachers get after two years of slogging away with our GCSE and A-Level classes: finally, like all great journeys, the end arrives and Y11 and Y13 bid their farewell to the school. There are no more lessons, only study leave. The time to help them any further – they are now on their own. 

But your timetable remains the same.

Meaning every Year 11 or Year 13 class you used to have is now a gloriously free hour or two in your schedule where you can focus on the things you’ve not been able to focus on all year. For example – tomorrow I plan on finally digging my way out of my desk. Yesterday I began work on the new sets of study notes required for the new A-level course I will be teaching in September. Next week we will be spending some department time reviewing our curriculum and tweaking it to better serve student needs.

This time is sacred. Without back-stacking a lot of the prep and planning for the new year onto the end of the previous one, there is no way I could do my job as effectively as I do.

However, every year as I indulge in the gift of gained time I am amazed by quite how much I don’t have time to do this sort of thing all year long.

Like many schools, we use the summer term to get the heavy lifting of years 7, 8 and 9 reports done, and most years I find myself writing them as if a fog is lifting. I can suddenly see these bright and brilliant pupils who I have been ignoring over the last few months in sacrifice to the demands of exam groups. I remember that their progress is important too, even though all eyes are focused on the August results for just two of the seven year groups we teach.

And I find myself planning well thought out lessons and creating stimulating resources. The things I wished that I had time to make back in October, or January, or March, but could never quite get around to because of the billion more urgent things that took priority.

And also reading.

Time to further my own subject knowledge and play around with new ideas that will filter through into lessons. Time to learn about new ideas others are trying in their classrooms, or attend courses for the subjects I teach.

The summer always makes me realise that some time at the start of September I took a big, deep breath, and I haven’t let it out until now.

It makes me remember what it is like to be the best teacher you can be, instead of merely the best one you can afford to be on top of the ever-growing workload.

And it makes me question why the best resource we have in education – teachers – are stretched to breaking point for the bulk of the academic year, diminishing their effectiveness, enthusiasm and energy, just so the government can save a few quid.

What our students need, even more than smaller class sizes, is teachers who have the time in their working day to be the best teachers they can be. To give every child the attention they deserve. To reflect on their practice and do what is needed to improve. To be creative and experiment with new ideas. To plan outstanding lessons and devise amazing resources.

We need teachers who have time to breathe all year long, not just the last few weeks.

We need teachers who have the time to do what the job actually requires.

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