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February 6, 2009

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Schools agreement fails to relieve teachers’ workload

A committee of Welsh Assembly Members (AMs) has expressed concern that

teachers in Wales are still working too many hours, and that

headteachers in particular could be exposed to stress and ill health as

a result of workload pressures.

The Enterprise and Learning Committee led an inquiry into a six-year-old agreement, which aimed to tackle unacceptable workload levels among teachers in England and Wales, and raise standards of pupil achievement in the process. Publishing their report on the Raising standards and national workload agreement, on 5 February, the Assembly Members concluded that there was little evidence that standards were improving.

The agreement, which was signed by government, employers and school trade unions in January 2003, introduced changes to teachers’ conditions of service, to be phased in over the course of three years up to September 2005. Key measures included introduction of work-life balance clauses; a maximum-hours limit for covering for absent colleagues; and guaranteed time to prepare for lessons (PPA).

The Committee’s inquiry found that many witnesses agreed there had been an improvement in the focus of the work of teachers but not necessarily in the number of hours worked.

The Committee examined the issue of work-life balance of headteachers at length, and raised concerns about the “stress and ill health, which may result when this is not managed and appraised properly”. A key factor in heads’ increased workload centres on finding cover to allow teachers more time to prepare for classes. A large percentage of members of the National Association of Head Teachers reported working between 49 and 59 hours a week during term time, and total hours worked by all teachers has not improved since 2005.

To address this issue, the Committee has urged the Welsh Assembly Government to explore the possibility of employing school managers in larger secondary schools to support senior teaching staff and, more broadly, to consider measures to reduce the hours worked by all teachers.

The AMs expressed surprise that work-life balance is not covered in most teacher appraisals, and wants this addressed. They also called on the Assembly to work with the Welsh governors’ body and local education authorities to produce relevant guidance to governing bodies on their statutory duties, including managing the work-life balance of headteachers.

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