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September 14, 2009

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Government vows crackdown to reduce teacher workloads

Schools minister Vernon Coaker has promised that tough new measures

currently before Parliament will help enforce contractual arrangements

for teachers designed to reduce their workloads.

His pledge was made in the wake of the publication of the 10th annual teacher-workload survey, which showed that while there had been a fall in working hours for secondary heads of departments and special-classroom teachers, primary heads and deputy heads had experienced a slight rise.

The survey also revealed that a third of secondary teachers; 30 per cent of primary teachers; and 22 per cent of special-school teachers said they are expected to do administration and clerical work, which they did not regard as part of their job.

It is more than six years since teacher and employer organisations signed the National Agreement, which heralded major changes to teachers’ conditions of service to reduce workloads and excessive hours. Measures included delegating administrative tasks to support staff; only covering rarely for absent colleagues; guaranteeing half a day of teaching time each week for planning, preparation and assessment; and dedicated ‘headship’ time for senior managers.

While he acknowledged that many schools had already implemented these changes, Mr Coaker stressed that some heads and teachers were still being required to do tasks they did not regard as part of their job. His concerns mirror those made earlier this year by a committee of Welsh Assembly Members (AMs), who warned 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.

Mr Coaker, however, believes that the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill could help improve the situation. Currently before Parliament, the Bill sets out powers for local authorities to issue warning notices to schools that are not complying with the terms of the Agreement, and allows the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to issue or amend such a warning notice.

Said Mr Coaker: “It is absolutely unacceptable if the contractual rights of heads and teachers are not implemented — that’s why we are legislating for tough new powers for local authorities to make sure staff get what they are entitled to. I am very concerned if any head or teacher is being expected to do work outside their contractual obligations.

“It is right for unions to negotiate strongly for this locally because, ultimately, it is down to employers themselves to invest and support their staff with good working conditions, effective training and career development.”

He added that heads should be fully supported by their senior management teams to free up their time — for example, through the increased use of school business managers; federating local schools; and pooling resources with other local schools, as proposed in June’s schools White Paper.

Martin Johnson, deputy general-secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the survey offered no surprises. “Government policy needs to be joined-up,” he warned. “A lot of the unnecessary work is due to government accountability policies, which encourage schools to create mountains of paperwork as evidence of everything they do.”

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