Nothing is more annoying than arguing with non-school people about teachers’ holidays and hours. I’ve lost count of the time I’ve sat in a pub defending myself against the usual charges of “But you finish at 3pm” and “What do you need all those holidays for anyway?”

But anyone wanting to debate whether teachers ought only to be asked to complete 1265 hours of annual ‘directed time’ or to only work 195 days a year – needs first understand why those policies exist.

The 1265 hours rule, mandatory in maintained schools and voluntarily subscribed to in many academies, says teachers can only be specifically directed where to be for 1265 hours a year. During that time they might have to teach in a classroom, or take playground duty, or parent’s evening. It does not, however, mean that a teacher’s job is done when the hours are over. ‘Directed’ time is never the same as ‘total’ time.

All the other things that teachers must do – planning lessons, creating resources, marking work, writing reports, entering data etc. – are all plugged in around directed time. Once, when I calculated everything I was supposed to do in my week, the list came to 53 hours. And that’s before I even thought about taking a toilet break.

Thankfully, these extra hours can be done anywhere. Only the 1265 are dictated, the rest can be done from home. Some people will complain and ask why teachers can’t be on the premises until 5.30pm each day in order to get these tasks done. Honestly, they probably could. But schools are not always the best environment in which to work. Where I taught, the computers were older than the year 7s. It was much more efficient to work at home than in a cold classroom on a cranking computer.

As annoying as some people find it, many teachers are also the primary carers for children. Hence, they rush off at 4.01pm but this is so they can pick children up, feed them, bathe them, help with homework, and then get them to bed.  We can poo-poo this point and state that plenty of other professionals don’t get time to see their children, but it’s not like we have teachers queuing round the block to join the profession. I’d therefore question any policy which makes conditions worse.

The 190 days is a more pressing issue: after all, why should teachers have 13 weeks holiday? The physical demands of teaching are no more strenuous than working in McDonalds and their staff only get 4 weeks. I’ve also little time for the argument that teachers work most of their holidays. Some do, many don’t, and hardly anyone works for more than six weeks off the holidays, so the overall entitlement is still pretty cushy.

The cushy 13 weeks holiday are, however, a trade-off for the fact that teachers have zero flexibility for when they take their holidays. Teachers can’t take off an afternoon to see their child’s nativity, or attend a family wedding, or bid farewell to a beloved friend at their funeral. The 195 days is therefore fiercely protected because it enables teachers to spend time with the family and friends whose lives are often set slightly ajar during term-time.

As schools are also now allowed to choose the time of year in which they will take their holidays, there is an increasing risk that teacher-parents will never coincide time-off with the holidays of their children. Thus leading teachers to take ever more time from their own child in order to give it to someone else’s. That’s a tough ask.

Of course, other people suffer from restricted holidays. But, there’s hardly any job in which ALL holiday dates are prescribed. (My dad routinely got 2 weeks of holiday dates dictated to him, but the other 2 could be taken adhoc). Besides, if we want great people to help our children learn, we ought to make teaching as attractive as is feasible. Pragmatically, teachers can’t just take days off at will, but slapping extra weeks onto teacher contracts simply to please those who don’t have an equal entitlement is a short-sighted idea.

Restricted hours and days therefore seem a bad idea, but are actually a sensible way of retaining staff in a profession that might otherwise struggle to keep warm bodies in place. After all, I ask the armchair critic in the pub, if teacher’s conditions are so good – why aren’t YOU one? Their silence is usually enough to move the conversation on.

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