"When the cat is away, the mice play": Andrew Clowes questions whether public sector home-working benefits schools

Published by Andrew Clowes on December 10th 2021, 12:00am

Writing for The Leaders Council, Hey With Zion Primary School headteacher Andrew Clowes explores home-working, calling for a national discussion on whether it truly is a better model for productivity in the public sector.

No teacher should ever leave their class unsupervised. Misbehaviour can follow, and that becomes a safeguarding issue. Everybody knows that.

The same kind of thing applies with adults.

I used to work in a bank. When the office manager was absent, productivity went down, and overtime went up. To prevent that from happening is why office managers are appointed. It is one of the roles of a foreperson, too.

When the cat is away, the mice play.

In the context of working from home, the cat has not gone away, but the working from home mice are, in some respects, out of sight. They may be responding to emails, perhaps contactable by phone, but the question of productivity requires ongoing monitoring.

I imagine the profit motive will focus minds very sharply in the private sector and ways will have been devised to monitor output: underperformance cannot be tolerated, or the business fails.

In some work contexts, working at home may well be not even neutral but beneficial.

However, not all work contexts are the same. Perhaps there are areas where a sharper focus is required on the output of those working from home.

In the state education sector, it is frequently the case that those working from home are in a position of authority over staff in schools so it can be difficult to challenge up. If there is underperformance there, it will not affect costs, the impact will be felt instead by increased strain on the schools and diminished or slower support for pupils.

From the position of just one school here, it would be unfair of me to make general statements about the effects on schools of other public sector employees working from home. I could only offer anecdotes and one person's perceptions...and mine are mixed.

However, a national discussion and perhaps a larger scale survey about the effects on schools caused by the working from home practices of other public sector employees could be helpful.

It is fair to say that however helpful the face-to-face contact of those employees now working at home used to be, that is how much consideration should be granted to schools for its current loss.

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Andrew Clowes
Headteacher at Hey With Zion Primary School
December 10th 2021, 12:00am

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