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Inset days: I have a love-hate relationship with them. I don’t know about you other mums and dads with school age children, but I feel Inset days are a total pain, if a necessary one.

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Inset days are very important but a total pain.

Before I go any further, this is not a rant against teachers receiving on the job training. Far from it. I think teachers need ongoing professional training.  As a parent, however, Inset days are difficult to manage and the way they’re managed is, frankly, a bit odd.

Let’s take the recent Christmas holidays as an example. Almost every state primary school in my local area had an Inset day on Monday, January 6.

Various administrative tasks had built up over the two and-a-bit weeks the children had been off school and I desperately needed to get on with them. The Working World had been doing its thing since January 2, and I needed to get on with ‘stuff,’ from sorting out the laundry, to handling a query I have with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and checking thank you letters had been written. There was a backlog of kin keeping and important family admin and it needed sorting.

The Working World was chasing me on that Inset day. Emails needed replying to, phone calls had to be made and yet my children needed my attention.  

It’s a familiar pattern. This is the situation I find myself in at the end of every school holiday. The rest of the world has woken up and wants a piece of me. My children, however, are my priority and so I try focusing on them and then no one gets the best of me.

Inset days sit in this bizarre world where they aren’t quite school holidays and yet they aren’t a school day. Visitor attractions will still be busy with families but family admin tasks that you could put off during the holiday period become increasingly urgent.

Inset days also have a knock-on effect. They always seem to take place on a Monday so whatever you needed to do on the Monday gets put off until Tuesday, by which point you’re bogged down with all manner of jobs and so it’s the following week before you’re back to the usual routine.

The truth is, I always feel desperately sad when they children return to school. I love having them around during the holidays. For a stay at home parent like myself, however, the holidays mean non-stop interaction with other people.

If I am not dealing with my own children, we often have friends visiting or we visit friends and family. It’s wonderful to be sociable in this way, but I have no shame in admitting that after weeks of constant interaction with other people, I simply want a little time on my own to decompress and gather my thoughts.

It’s not so simple when I check the school’s term dates and see, bang at the end of the holidays, is an Inset day. It‘s one more day of constant interaction that’s followed by an intense, messed-up four day week. The hope of being able to sit in a café for an hour or two, reading the paper and talking to no one for the first time in weeks disappears instantly.

Things are a lot easier for me compared a lot of mums and dads. I’m a stay at home parent (I work for myself, but from home). If I worked away from home, I’d have to pay for childcare. Activity clubs and the like don’t generally operate on Inset days. I feel for working parents as they arguably have a tougher job.

I recall there was talk some time ago of the Government mandating Inset days must take place during the school holidays. It was a nice idea, but you’d have to amend the contracts of a huge number of existing teachers and any teachers with children would need to organise childcare. While it sounds simple, I don’t ever see it happening as it would require a huge effort.

My proposal, however, is a simple one. Instead of putting Inset days at the beginning of each school term, put them at the end, on a Friday. If school holidays must be extended by a day, put that day when the holiday starts not when it finishes.

Speaking for myself, I have a completely different mentality at the beginning of a holiday period. There’s not the urgent need to get on and do ‘stuff’ because you’re winding down.

Workwise, it would be so much easier to prepare for an additional day at the start of the holidays. For mums and dads, it could be useful as they’d have an additional day to travel to visit family and friends if they needed it. In my experience it’s also easier to organise childcare at the end of the week rather than the beginning.

We should keep and celebrate the Inset day. I don’t want a return to the days when teachers were unleashed on the world after a bit of training thinking they knew everything. Teachers need continuous professional development but sticking Inset days at the end of school holidays when you need a return to routine and need to charge into the world and get stuff done, no, sorry, it just doesn’t work. It’s disruptive, a pain and a recipe for making parents feel guilty.

Do you have any thoughts on Inset days? Do you love or loathe them? Maybe you’re a teacher who wishes to challenge or even support my opinion? Whatever your view, feel free to comment below.

6 thoughts on “The problem with Inset days”

  1. Ah, the inset day. A troublesome little oik if ever there was one.
    We had a issue of a different kind on January 6th – H works in a school and thus had to go back but out own girls were still off. So, that meant me taking a day of holiday right at the start of my holiday year!

    Let’s be honest (and teachers won’t like me for asking it), are inset days really necessary at all? Why can’t school staff go back before the children to receive their training? During a year there are 12 weeks of school holidays – that’s 60 working days (inc. bank holidays). This is way above the national average of 33.5. Just a thought…

    1. A holiday day used up right at the beginning of the holiday year. What a pain!

      I think the thing with teaching is that, whatever anybody says, it’s a very intense and demanding profession and the term time hours are very long. I looked into it a few years back thinking it might be great as I’d be at home during holiday periods. I then realised that term time I’d be out the house from 7am to 7pm the rest of the time, if not later or bringing work home to do in evenings so I get there’s a pay off: You work hard and get long holidays.

      Could those five days of Insent training be inside those holidays? Well, that’s a discussion worth having. The traiing, whether ity’s an Inset day or otherwise, I wouldn’t question its value, but the timing does generally seem to suck!

  2. I have several teacher friends and fully appreciate the need for the dreaded inset day. I am pleased that they have mostly evolved from random mid week, mid term annoyances to either side of a school holiday.

    I actually prefer the inset day at the end of a school holiday. It gives me that chance to lazily not go back to the real world. Its almost like an extra day off.

    Great article John and something that schools will never get right is to please is all.

    1. Yes, I wouldn’t question the need of Inset days. I think they’re necessary and a good thing. Thankfully, I don’t remember the days you mention when they were randomly placed mid-week! That said, I, personally, can better manage a day like that than a long, protracted period away from my desk so I’d be all for that, although for many it wouldn’t work.

      You’re tight though, schools cannot win. Whatever they do, they’ll never please everyone.

  3. Our school is different. We have an inset day at the start of the school year like everyone else, usually one before October half term, and the other 3-4 always at the end of the school year, so we tend to break up quite early. Sounds fab except a) we don’t get those random inset days in the year which means you can take your children to empty theme parks or attractions and b) if it falls right (or wrong depending how you look at it), you can end up with 7 weeks summer holidays. Great for children, not so great for working parents who have to find childcare for an extra week at the start of the holidays, when most holiday clubs don’t start until the week after. It’s also not early enough to actually make a difference when going away.

    But I agree, inset days at the end of term on Fridays are so much better (especially as Mondays are a long day for me but Fridays are a short day so I’d have to use less holiday time to take it off)

  4. Last day of the school holidays should be used for the training days. Children should not be missing days off school so teachers can train. Teachers should go in last day of the holidays to do training. Some schools take 2 training days together resulting in kids going back on a wednesday

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