Introduction

In almost every school across the land, teachers dedicate hours of their lives to planning, including during the evenings, weekends and holidays.

While it should be a joyous, creative journey where wonderful lessons are dreamt up and beautiful resources created, planning often involves your teachers spending time producing copious documents that may not always have a proportional impact on teaching and learning.

There’s no doubt that excessive curriculum planning can take its toll on the workload and wellbeing of your staff. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Effective planning is a critical part of a teacher’s job, but it’s important to consider the return on investment in terms of time. There is no need to spend three hours preparing a five-minute starter activity, for instance. And not every single resource needs to be laminated.

For maximum impact, a teacher needs to ask four simple questions:

  • What do my children need to learn?
  • What is the best way to deliver this learning?
  • How can I support the children who need it?
  • How can I challenge the children who need it?

This helps to shift the focus back onto the people we’re doing this for – the children – by creating more Child-Time for you and your staff.

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More Child-Time actions

What can I do today?

Ask your teachers how they could get more from their PPA time

If you have not reviewed how PPA time is used recently, contact staff and explain to them that you would like to help them make the most of their PPA time.

Put up a notice in the staffroom, or send out an email to ask your teachers what one thing would help them get more from their PPA time.

To help out, we have put together some words for you to use in a poster, email or group chat so you can get it out to your teachers today.

Dear team,

I know how much hard work goes into curriculum planning and resourcing lessons, and I would like to make sure your PPA time is as productive as possible.

PPA time is an important part of your working week, but in our busy school it can be hard to find a quiet moment to take stock and prepare. I would like you to think about what would make your PPA time work better for you.

You might want to do your PPA at a different time of the day, in a different part of the school, or perhaps you would prefer to spend PPA time at home.

Please tell me one thing that would help you get more from your PPA time by [insert date]

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Take some time next week to review the suggestions

Read through the suggestions your staff have made to see if they are easy and practical to implement. Check back in with your staff to let them know if and when you can accommodate their ideas. This confirms you value their suggestions and want to help.

Changes such as shifting someone’s PPA time to the morning when there are likely to be fewer interruptions, giving them a longer PPA session every fortnight or enabling teachers to work collaboratively could make a world of difference to your teachers’ planning sessions.

What shall I work on next term?

Set up a regular curriculum and planning surgery

You know from experience that teachers plan and deliver their best learning when they are in the right frame of mind for the job, and in these worrying times, we need to do all we can to promote everyone’s wellbeing.

However, if your teachers are burning the midnight oil on lesson planning, or spending entire weekends trawling Google for an engaging activity about the Roman invasions, they won’t be at their best in the classroom.

As a school leader, you undoubtedly want to help your staff streamline the planning process, and overcome any barriers standing in the way. Are your teachers struggling with the workload? Perhaps they need support to deliver learning to different abilities in the class? Maybe they are finding it tricky to sequence learning for their children?

To get to the heart of what teachers are thinking, you need to give them the opportunity to talk to you about curriculum and planning in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Next term, set up a regular surgery for staff to come to you and air their views, share their ideas and ask questions about everything to do with curriculum and lesson planning.

How to organise your surgery

  • Schedule your surgery for a set time of the week, for example every other Wednesday
  • Encourage teachers to book some time with you during the surgery times
  • Listen to your teachers and find out what they love and hate about planning
  • Use the time to provide advice and support
  • Offer staff the option to respond anonymously with a letter in the pigeon-hole if they prefer
  • Review the outcomes at the end of the term and share useful findings with staff where appropriate

Suggested topics for discussion in the surgery

Remind your teachers to ask themselves the following questions when planning a lesson:

  • What is it my children need to learn?
  • What do I need to teach to get them there?
  • Which activities will have most impact on their understanding of this topic?

Encourage them to visualise the children in the classroom:

  • Which children are going to need additional support to get the most from this lesson?
  • What support will they need and how can I provide it?
  • Which children need an extra challenge to get the most from this lesson?
  • What challenge do they need and how can I provide it?

Take note of any difficulties and concerns a teacher raises, and make another appointment to address the issues.

Keep a running log of any brilliant ideas which arise from the surgeries and use them to create a planning workshop later in the year.

What shall I be working on for the rest of the year?

Run a lesson planning workshop

A workshop is a great way to enable your teachers to share their ideas and best practice.

Set a date for the workshop and ask each teacher to:

  • Come with an example of a great lesson and explain the impact it had
  • Come with an example of a lesson that didn’t work so well, and explore why
  • Review ways to share the planning load e.g. by sharing resources or working in groups

Review the key outcomes and agree with your staff how best to act on them.

Every school is different, and any changes you make to your school’s planning process may not be the same as in the school next door. However, the overriding focus should be to help teachers use their planning time to the best possible effect.

Your key actions for the rest of the year

  • Continue to run planning surgeries as frequently as needed
  • Continue to review the findings and use these to refine your approach
  • Regularly invite staff to share best practice
  • Challenge practices which sap your teachers’ time

Expected results

As educators, we all strive every day to create engaging, challenging and purposeful learning opportunities for the children in our classrooms. By encouraging open communication with staff, you can help your teachers use their planning time well so that lessons have a positive impact on every child in the classroom.

You can’t make more hours in the day, but you can help your teachers do more with the hours they have. This will result in more purposeful lesson planning, and crucially, it will give you more Child-Time.

If you would like to understand how Juniper can support you further in this area, please provide your details below and we will be in contact.

Anna Gregory

Anna Gregory

After almost 20 years in the primary sector, both as a teacher and senior leader, Anna Gregory set up her own business as an educational consultant. She spent 5 years training schools in grammar, writing and curriculum design. During this time, she also delivered training in ITT/SCITT settings and a number of teaching schools. In 2018, whilst working as a teaching and learning coach, she began to develop The Concentric Curriculum, an online curriculum design solution for the primary sector. Anna is Director of Curriculum at Juniper Education.