The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

Sabbatical opportunities decreased

Last spring, after three years of discussions, the administration decided to allow only one teacher to go on a school-funded sabbatical per year. In previous years, sabbaticals were available for up to three teachers a year. The change began when the Senior Administrative Team, including Head of School Coreen Hester and the principals of each division, were concerned with the large amounts of money set aside for sabbaticals.

ASL spends £500,000 each year on professional development with £180,000 of that spent on sabbaticals. “Thirty-seven percent of all of the money for the [faculty], over 200 teachers and 100 staff, went to the three people who took sabbaticals,” Hester said.

Director of Finance Chris AImond believes that the administration felt there were more efficient ways the money could be used. “It was a very high proportion [of money],” he said. “We were concerned that it wasn’t the best use of our professional development monies.”

Likewise, Director of Teaching and Learning Robyn Chapel supports sabbaticals, but believes that it is also important for every teacher to have a higher amount of professional development funds. “I definitely think it’s a valuable experience for the individual,” she said. “It’s just the tension between what’s good for the individual and what’s good for the collective group?”

Although Science Teacher Derek Fleming agrees that there were problems with the previous professional development funding, he feels sabbaticals are an important benefit for teachers. Fleming went on a sabbatical to study a master’s degree in science communication at the University of Kent.  He finds it “extremely regrettable that a faculty benefit had to be reduced in order to increase funding in a different area.”

Head of Social Studies Department Natalie Jaworski views sabbaticals as a teacher benefit greatly diminished by the change. “I do think [sabbaticals] are one of the things that you look at when you start working here, as part of your contract this is a benefit that is offered to you,” she said. “It should be open to all of us to do and limiting it to only one is pretty restrictive.”

Science Teacher Kevin Conaty has been on a sabbatical and found it is a worthwhile experience, wanting others to have the opportunity to do the same. Before taking his sabbatical, Conaty was a biology teacher, but also wanted to expand his teaching into chemistry. “Part of my sabbatical was to take some advanced courses in chemistry which I did, and then I came back and was better prepared and more able to teach the higher level chemistry course,” Conaty said.

Conaty attended meetings involving the whole faculty before the decision was made to discuss the changes and during these meetings tried to convey how meaningful a sabbatical was for him.  “I tried to present the positive experience that I had and that by cutting it down you are denying more people what was for me a very valuable experience,” he said.

Despite reducing the number, Hester still regrets reducing the sabbatical program and views the decision as “a debate of two rights. It was very difficult… because in the best of all worlds you would do both,” she said. “You would still have three sabbaticals and you would be giving £1,200 [to each teacher].”

Originally, all faculty members were allocated £400 for professional development in their first year of employment and received £300 every year after. This money was dedicated to professional experiences around the world that members of the faculty were able to take part in. “It might be going to professional development in your area of expertise, so like a science conference or math conference. There’s lots of opportunities,” Chapel said.

However, with limited funds it was important to redistribute them more equitably. “We spent a lot of time trying to have as fair a process as we possibly could so that everybody understood the rationale,” Hester said. “I’m a huge fan of sabbaticals – I just have to spend money within the budget and so I was in favor of the redistribution.”

If a teacher was in need of more money to take part in one of these professional development opportunities however, they had to request it from their divisional principal.

Expensive international programs were one reason why a teacher would need more money. “You can imagine if you are going on a trip to the [U.S.], that just wasn’t enough,” Almond said. “It was not particularly efficient because for every time you wanted to do a course, you had to [request] money from someone else. It took a lot of time then for the team who were approving the money.”

In addition, it was difficult to decide who to give the extra money to, and this led to concerns that the program wasn’t as fair as it could be. “How did the principal decide whether to give £1,700 to [someone] or to someone who [only] needed £200 more?” AImond said. “It wasn’t necessarily the fairest system.”

The new way of allocating the funds attempts to distribute them more equitably. Cutting down on the amount of sabbaticals allows every teacher to receive more money for professional development.

From the 2016-17 school year onwards only one teacher from any of the three divisions will be awarded a sabbatical. All teachers will have access to £1,200 for professional development. If they do not spend that money in their first year, they receive another £1,200 until they have reached £2,400. Staff members will receive £600 every year until they have £1,200. This allows more teachers to access more money for professional development, such as taking courses throughout the year and going to conferences either locally or abroad.

After numerous conversations, Almond and Senior Administration Team remain content with the decision “We believe it is the best use of the funds,” he said. “To fund a sabbatical costs about £60,000 a year. When you think about how that £60,000 could be used on lots of people, it’s a hard one to justify.”

However, Jaworski believes that sabbaticals and professional development are very different and should not be funded from the same pool of money. “I think the sabbatical is a separate benefit and I don’t look at [Professional Development] that we get at school as a benefit, I look at it as part of my actual job,” she said. “I don’t think that money should be coming out of [the same fund].”

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