Diary of a Sheffield headteacher: ‘Teachers have to go without breaks and take work home after covering lessons due to a staff shortage’

A Sheffield headteacher reveals how some teachers go without breaks and take work home after covering other lessons due to a staff shortage as part of a week-long diary series detailing the true impact of school funding cuts in England.

Friday, 29th November 2019, 3:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 10:11 am
Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

The devastating impact of the school funding crisis is being felt by teachers across the country, with many having to cover for canteen staff and cleaners in a bid to save vital cash needed for other areas.

Elsewhere some schools are left without basic supplies such as textbooks and stationery, according to an investigation by the Guardian earlier this year, while essential funds are raised by parents or during ‘non-uniform’ days.

Excessive workloads are also getting worse due to cuts many schools.

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Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

Despite this class sizes are still increasing and in a bid to balance the books many schools are forced to make staff redundant.

As part of a week-long series that began on Monday, The Sheffield Star is delving into school life at Watercliffe Meadow Primary School, in Shirecliffe, through the eyes of headteacher Ian Read.

Mr Read was forced to get rid of six members of staff earlier this year as the school simply couldn't afford to keep them on.

In the next installment of the diary, which covers just one week in November, he details how due to staff sickness some teachers had to cover lessons to cut down on supply bills.

Watercliffe Meadow Headteacher Ian Read

This meant that many were forced to go their whole shift without a break and take additional work home because there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.


We have two visits today; our Reception children are ‘going on a bear hunt’ to a botanical garden at the other side of the city and a team from Year 5 and Year 6 are playing in a basketball tournament. As a school we have always placed great value on ensuring our curriculum is full of experiences and opportunities like these for our children. There is usually something happening most weeks and we give children from Year 2 to Year 6 residential opportunities each year, these are heavily subsidised by school to enable as many children as possible to go.

Today, neither of these visits could take place without volunteers supporting to ensure we have sufficient ratios to ensure children’s safety. The residentials couldn’t take place without my staff willingly giving up the additional time without pay.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

Since our redundancies we have just about managed to keep the visits, residentials and sporting opportunities going thanks to a group of willing volunteers and staff doing additional work back in school to cover the work of staff who are out. That might be covering social times and lunchtimes, picking up additional intervention groups, covering breakfast club and after school clubs or work in the office.

Teaching has always been a vocation where staff do a great deal of additional jobs through good will but the sheer volume of additional ‘asks’ is becoming untenable and I’m sure is a large part of the reason why we are suffering a recruitment and retention crisis.

People might say that we are rewarded with good holidays, I would agree that this is still a good perk of being a teacher but these days I don’t have any teachers who don’t work through their holidays. It may be less intensive work but they are still working just to keep on top of the workload.

To give you a staffing update, we still have three teachers and a teaching assistant off today and tomorrow and we have run out of additional capacity. Unless anyone else is off tomorrow, the week will have cost us around £1,000 that we hadn’t planned to spend and a great deal of additional work and stress for those covering over the course of the week. I know of staff that have gone without breaks and taken additional work home with them because they were unable to do it in the school day because they were covering for something.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe

I spoke to one of the staff, who is very rarely off and has been ill all week. He was stressed because he knew the impact it would have on his class and the other staff who will end up covering. He could barely speak and clearly should not be in school. Teachers will recognise the guilt that comes with being off work. The lack of any additional capacity and the increased intensity of work makes that worse than ever.

You can read Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday’s instalments here.

Watercliffe Meadow School at Shirecliffe