Is work-life balance a myth?

Nov. 5, 2018
Susie Fraser 2

Susie Fraser

Vice Principal at Manchester Communication Academy

It is completely possible to achieve a work-life balance. It doesn’t feel possible, but it is.

If we get work-life balance right, it has an impact on the young people. If their teachers are healthy, valued and have hobbies and a life beyond the school gates, pupils will get a better education. It really is that simple. So how can we achieve it?

In my experience, it’s through a rich wellbeing offer (including one flexi-day a year and genuine support for flexible working) and being extremely mindful of staff workload. Not only does this positively affect pupils, it helps with the increasing recruitment and retention challenge.  

Here are just a few ways in which we reduced teacher workload in my school.

Look at your timetable

Our timetable is structured around six faculty areas and students are taught in year groups within a faculty area. This means that departments have at least one, often two, shared planning slots a week.

As our lessons are one hour and twenty minutes long, it gives us a significant amount of time for collaborative and shared planning and department meeting time; reducing the need for meetings after school and reducing planning load. 


Protect evenings

We also have a shorter day for students on a Friday. On Friday afternoons, we facilitate professional development opportunities, again, reducing the requirement for twilight sessions and after school meetings.

We actually don’t have any after school meetings apart from for middle leaders (on their request) and these are intended to be time for collaboration rather than information giving.

We try to model best practice in out-of-hours emails at SLT level and we regularly remind people of the need to spend evenings and weekends away from work. As a result, there are very few emails sent after about 4:30 and after midday on a Friday.

Every Friday at midday, we receive an email from the principal saying thank you for the week, and that’s the signal for us all to log off emails for the weekend.

Simplify policies

Valuable feedback is crucial to supporting student progress and success. However, this does not mean lengthy, written comments that must be done on a weekly basis.

Our assessment and feedback policy does not prescribe the frequency of marking but guides teachers to use feedback to respond as and when it is most appropriate. We use low stakes knowledge recall tests regularly to respond to misconceptions.

Some departments use podcasts to provide verbal feedback. Whole class feedback is also used effectively. We trust the professional judgement of subject leads to guide teachers to use accurate, valid, worthwhile assessment that genuinely moves learning forward.

This means teachers aren’t spending hours marking at home. 

"Ultimately, if staff are going to give the students their very best, then they need energy and sleep to be able to do that."

Scale back lesson planning

This approach is also echoed in our teaching and learning policy. I am so excited to engage with and share evidence informed approaches so that the principles from learning theory and cognitive science underpin our approach to teaching and learning.

Yet there is no defined lesson planning structure or an expectation to submit lesson plans. Our open culture allows for regular review and feedback of teaching and learning in a non-judgemental and supportive way.

Ultimately, if staff are going to give the students their very best, then they need energy and sleep to be able to do that. I have the best work-life balance at this point in my career than I have since I was an NQT. Because of this, I probably achieve more and am much more efficient at having the impact that I intended to have when I first came into teaching.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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