Why We Must Protect Our Staff From Emails

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Paul Ainsworth

Paul has been writing for the Teacher Toolkit website since 2012 and is the author of 'No Silver Bullets: Day in, day out school improvement'. He is a system leader supporting primary schools, secondary schools and MATs currently with with Infinity Academies Trust as Education...
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Why should we protect our teaching staff from emails?

Three years ago, I ‘thunked’ that all staff emails should be banned. They were just filling up staff inboxes with too many emails, ranging from the trivial, the lost item to the stressed out teacher sending out cries for help in the middle of the night.

At the start of this academic year, Nicky Morgan chose to highlight the issue of emails, focussing on the idea that teachers should not be expected to answer emails after 5pm each day. After lots of publicity around these comments, little seems to have happened as a result.

Unnecessary Stress:

I currently support headteachers and senior leaders in a range of schools and certainly one of my key concerns is the stress they are under as they strive to raise the performance of their schools.

I talk to many leaders about the stress of opening an email at the wrong time. It would appear that the Friday night email can be worst. This is the email that derails a leader’s whole weekend and cause sleepless nights. Sometimes just knowing that email is there without even reading the concern can be enough to cause real stress.

shutterstock_167117822 Stressed senior businesswoman using laptop at desk in office

Image: Shutterstock

Leaders explain that it is in the early morning hours that the issue can begin to swirl around their heads. They can be caught in a perpetual cycle of sitting down to answer to the email and over and over again, typing a reply and each time they press send, the nightmare starts again. I can vividly remember the sleepless nights of being a headteacher and recognise that the health and well-being of our staff is vital.

Turn It Off!

Some schools have looked at ideas from the continent, such as turning emails servers off at certain times. You could still send an email, but they would sit in ‘the ether’ and only be pushed at certain times. In many ways this would appear a good solution to protect well-being.

Some people say that this is an artificial act, which doesn’t replicate other walks of life. However I would argue that in teaching, this is due to circumstance. One of the issues that I see is the smart phone culture. We often say about students in our care that today, they can’t escape bullying. They are constantly linked to social media via their smart phones. The advice we give to many parents is to turn the phone off and to not be afraid of blocking people.

shutterstock_255828211 Closeup Of A Business Man's Hand Using Cellphone Outdoor

Image: Shutterstock

To some teachers, the constant work emails can also be a continual pressure, especially as many staff link their school emails to their personal phone. In industry as a matter of course people are given a work phone for work emails. I heard about one Multi-Academy Trust, which banned staff from placing their school emails on their personal phone. I’m sure this was probably more around e-security than staff well-being, but it does give staff the choice as to when they choose to look at work emails rather than it being constantly there.


One piece of advice I always give to new headteachers and senior leaders, is to request a work phone, which they have their work emails on. Their own personal phone is not linked up to work emails. For teaching staff, why link your phone to your work emails? If your school does not give you a phone, are they not saying that you should not answer work emails out of reasonable office hours? We need to remember, it is only those on a leadership spine whose working hours are governed by a reasonable request from the headteacher.

As a profession, we recognise that stress is such an issue amongst our colleagues and we need to continue the debate as to how we can manage this. We need to consider how we can protect our colleagues out of the classroom as well as within it.

How do you mange your personal devices and work emails?

If you are a headteacher, how do you manage this in your school and what solutions can you provide? Leave a comment below.


Written by former headteacher, @pkainsworth; Paul Ainsworth is an Academy Advisor for a Multi-Academy Trust.

Headteacher @PKAinsworth, aswers TTkitThunks Q11

His new book ‘Beginning Middle Leadership – Bloomsbury CPD Library’ is published in January 2015.

He’s written five previous books.

  1. Get that Teaching Job
  2. Developing a self-evaluating school: A practical guide
  3. The Senior Leader’s Yearbook: A handbook for implementing outstanding school systems
  4. The School Partnerships Handbook
  5. Tackling In-school Variation


This post answers the 43rd question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thanks to Gmail, I have uploaded my analysis of emails at work.

Click to enlarge



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9 thoughts on “Why We Must Protect Our Staff From Emails

  1. Ever since I discovered that my HoD was part of piloting a programme in school where he gets his work emails to his phone, I no longer send any emails written after 3pm on Fri until I’m back in work at 7(ish) on Mon morning. They’re never that important and my HoD 100% deserves a stress free weekend. We have to be able to switch off in this job and it’s damn hard without you’re phone telling you that someone in ur team has a question (that 99% of the time can wait)!

  2. Thanks Paul/Ross.

    Absolutely agree that email overload can cause stress. I wouldn’t suggest we can or should ‘protect’ staff from emails, though, certainly not by trying to control when they should be reading/sending them (because we all have different ways of managing our workload, and anything that impinges on our freedom to do that can cause MORE stress) though I would say no one should expect an instantaneous response to an email, whenever it’s sent. As a general principle, rather than leaders protecting those they lead, I would always recommend that they help those they lead to deal with the pressures – empower (awful jargon word, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment!) rather than shield.

    So re: email, I think it’s important that school have clear email protocols, which are agreed, then widely communicated and adhered to, eg:

    Only ever copy multiple respondents into an email if they really need the info. Don’t do that ‘just in case’ they might.
    Even when you do have multiple respondents, there should only ever be one name on the ‘To’ line. That’s the person who should respond if a response is necessary. If you’re ‘cc’ you know it’s just for info/so you’re aware, and you’re not expected to do anything.
    If you’re ‘cc’ and you DO want to make a suggestion, you don’t respond to the person who sent the email, and you definitely don’t ‘reply all’! You send your thoughts to the person on the ‘To’ line who can then co-ordinate the response.
    Never send an email in anger! If you recognise there’s strong feeling in your message, save it in drafts, sleep on it and decide next morning whether to send it, edit it or delete it.
    If an email grows too long (more than about half a page?) that tells you it probably shouldn’t be an email, but a face to face conversation. Certainly if it’s sensitive, controversial or likely to upset or anger the recipient, you should be talking to them rather than emailing.
    I DEFINITELY agree about pulling emails and not having them pushed, and being disciplined about when you read and respond to them. Take control, don’t let email control you, and try not to let your Smartphone rule your life! In holidays, especially, choose work days when you read and respond to emails, so you don’t read them and think about school EVERY day when you’re trying to rest and refresh. As a head, my PA and senior team always knew how to get hold of me in an emergency, so an urgent email wouldn’t just sit there. In the same way, I’m a great advocate of Twitter for CPD, but always recommend those who use it for education-related things keep that account separate from their personal account, if they have one, as Paul recommends with a work phone/personal phone above. If we think about work all the time it actually makes us less effective professionally, rather than more, I’d say

    Hope this helps!

    Any other suggestions?

  3. I am very proud to say that I have never owned a mobile phone. I am very active on my laptop and use all of the social media including having nearly 4 000 followers on twitter. But I engage with the world when I choose to do so, not when other people or organizations want to rule my life. So throw away your mobile phone and live life to the full.


    1. Well, I abandoned smartphones, comes to the same thing with email as “dumb” phones can no longer access it….best thing I have done in a long time, I actually read books on the tube again! Your mind changes to a much healthier routine…

  4. I have produced a weekly bulletin for my faculty for the last 4 yrs. It means I am not adding to the email my colleagues recieve and all relevant information is in one weekly email not a number throughout the week. This doesnt replace daily conversations which we are constantly having. I spported this with a faculty communications policy.

    One discussion i am now having is how to ensure task based emails are clear as to task, required by date and whom, purpose ( where relates on SIP), who can support?, estimated time to complete and is it workload agreed? – bit like a 5minute task plan. ☺ hoping to help make tasks clear and help me to prioritise. These emails are coming from various support staff and leaders and can often be buried under 100’s of “all staff” blanket emails. I received 51 yesterday morning between 9.00 and 1.30 while i was on a year 7 trip!

    Any one got any strategies related to middle leaders getting clear tasks and completion time ( i dislike the negativity of the word dealine)?


  5. One simple thing I’ve done is have my emails only coming through to my phone via the outlook app, not the iPhone mail app. Then turned the notifications off so I can access them when I want, but it’s seperate from my personal emails and I read school emails on my terms and not as soon as I see the little red circle appear!

  6. As a head, I have banned all emails after 6pm and all weekend. I introduced daily briefings so staff can announce their email or speak directly to others. We have a daily digest of important info coordinated by my PA. Well being of staff and SLT is vital.

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