Tuesday, 21 March 2017

FHS strike: Staff and parents demand Lewisham Council acts to stop cuts

There was a tremendous turnout of staff, parents and students outside Forest Hill School (FHS) this morning to support NUT members taking their first day of strike action against damaging cuts at FHS (see pictures below). Yet more staff were gathering support from commuters at Sydenham and Forest Hill stations.


The key message from today's protest was for everyone to meet again - with even more friends, neighbours and colleagues outside Lewisham Town Hall to:

LOBBY LEWISHAM MAYOR & CABINET
from 5pm, Wednesday 22 March
outside Lewisham Town Hall in Catford,
London SE6 4RU

Sadly, the Council seem to be trying to wash their hands of this dispute even though they are the employer of the many staff that are being made redundant; even though they will remain the employer of all the staff who will be left to support the same number of students with fewer colleagues and so an even greater workload; even though they need to take responsibility for the education of local children that will be damaged as a result of these cuts.

Some councillors are even saying that acting to support the school would be 'illegal'. This is rubbish. The protest was told how Greenwich Council is agreeing to provide additional funding and extend loan repayments to support one of its schools facing similar funding pressures.


Education legislation also makes it clear that the expectation lies with the Council to take responsibility for the cost of the redundancy payments for those support staff who have already left plus those teachers who have opted for voluntary redundancy. That money alone could help prevent any further compulsory redundancies and allow FHS to recruit staff to address some of the additional workload that is otherwise going to be forced on to remaining staff.

So JOIN THE LOBBY TOMORROW. Tell Lewisham Council to stop pretending that defending education in one of their schools is 'illegal' and to start carrying out their responsibilities to one of its community schools.

A parent speaks up in support of teachers' action










Friday, 17 March 2017

NUT forced to call strike to defend jobs, workload, education at Forest Hill

LONDON REGION NATIONAL UNION OF TEACHERS
PRESS RELEASE

For immediate distribution - 17 March 2017


  • LEWISHAM COUNCIL FAILS IN ITS RESPONSIBILITIES TO PROTECT EDUCATION AT FOREST HILL SCHOOL
  • QUADRUPLE CUTS WHAMMY WOULD MEAN £1.3 MILLION IN STAFFING CUTS
  • NUT TO STRIKE TO DEFEND JOBS, WORKLOAD & EDUCATION ON TUES 21 MARCH, WED 29 MARCH, THURS 30 MARCH.

Lewisham Council provokes strike action at Forest Hill School

At a time when parents, staff and elected councillors should be working together to oppose the unprecedented threat of £3bn cuts to school budgets nationally, it is with regret that the NUT are having to call on its members at Forest Hill School (FHS) to take strike action in a dispute with Lewisham Council in order to oppose compulsory redundancies and the imposition of additional workload to NUT members at FHS.


London NUT officials had met earlier this week with FHS management and put forward proposals that we hoped would be agreed by the Council in order to avert strike action. We had understood that, before finalising any decision to withdraw or proceed with action, we would receive a response to our proposals by Friday 17 March. Regrettably, instead of hearing any further response, we were informed by the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group on Thursday 16 March that the Headteacher, Mike Sullivan, had instead already informed parents in a letter that strike action was definitely taking place. Further, he had also cancelled a meeting with a delegation of parents that had asked to meet with him to discuss the proposed restructuring.


Faced with this apparent refusal to negotiate a settlement, the NUT has had no option but to confirm that we are calling on our members at Forest Hill School to take three days of strike action before the Easter holidays. We hope that this firm action can yet persuade the Council to reconsider its position and agree an acceptable solution to the dispute without it dragging on further towards the exam period.


Parents support teachers on the school gates and lobby Lewisham Council


We are pleased that members of the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group will be protesting outside the school gates in Dacres Road, SE23 2XN, at 9am on the day of strike action and supporting striking teachers in leafleting the local community to explain the threats to education at Forest Hill School and the reasons for the strike.


From 5pm on Wednesday 22 March, Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group and the NUT will also be jointly lobbying the meeting of Lewisham Mayor and Cabinet, to be held at the Town Hall in Catford, to demand the Council intervenes to carry out their responsibilities as employers and to protect education at Forest Hill School.


£1.3 million in staffing cuts will damage education at Forest Hill School


The dispute centres around a demand placed on the school to make £1.3 million in staffing cuts as part of a ‘recovery plan’ agreed with the Council. This comprises of:

  • 19 non-classroom based support staff made redundant (full year saving £350k)
  • A loss of 4 classroom based support roles and the rationalisation of the hours of other posts (£180k)
  • A loss of 15 teaching posts along with the reduction of payments for additional responsibilities for many other teaching posts (£800k)
The NUT believes that the consequences of the staffing losses proposed in this plan would be damaging to education, staffing morale and retention at Forest Hill School.
The job losses have already included a worrying loss of lunchtime supervisors and now threaten teaching posts including the compulsory redundancy of the Teacher supporting pupils with English as an Additional Language. Losing this many posts when pupil numbers are not falling at FHS can only mean cuts to education overall.


At a time when teacher workload is widely recognised as a key contributor to a mounting teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the cuts also impose the halving of the non-contact time that allows teachers to plan, prepare and mark during the working day from the equivalent of 6 out of 25 periods a week to just 3 out of 25.


These damaging cuts are a result of four significant funding pressures:

1) As with a growing number of schools nationally, rising costs and falling income, for example to post-16 funding, have pushed Forest Hill into a budget deficit

2) FHS has been loaned funds by the Council to address this as a ‘licensed deficit’. However, in addition to making cuts to reduce the deficit, this means that the school must also make additional cuts in order to be able to repay the loan.

3) FHS is spending nearly £1 million a year, 10.2% of its budget, on a PFI contract.

4) Lewisham Council is also insisting that the cost of redundancy payments is also taken from the FHS budget despite Section 37 of the 2002 Education Act making clear the expectation is that these costs should be paid by the Council, not FHS.


Lewisham Council can - and should - resolve this dispute


As one immediate step, the Authority should meet the costs of redundancy payments at the school, estimated to be in the region of £450,000 in total. This step alone would allow the school to avoid the deletion of the Teacher providing support for EAL and allow further staffing to be employed to provide additional non-contact time.


Beyond this, there are other steps that the DfE’s statutory guidance confirms that Lewisham Council could take - steps that the NUT understands are being taken by some other Authorities to support schools in financial difficulties. These include:

  • Renegotiating the terms of the loan agreement to reduce the repayments
  • Renegotiating contracts or assisting the school in meeting PFI costs
  • Providing additional finance to meet specific budget areas, e.g. the additional SLT support, special needs or to directly write off some of the debt.
The NUT was hoping that Lewisham Council would take at least some of these steps in order to assist Forest Hill School address its present difficulties. We had hoped the Council would recognise its responsibility to avoid severe damage to staff jobs, pay and conditions and subsequent severe damage to pupils’ education at FHS. We now have no option but to call action to persuade Lewisham Council to think again.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Can a school set a deficit budget?

The campaign to oppose school cuts and to demand fair funding for all schools continues to gain momentum. Heads, staff, parents, students and local politicians are all getting involved as the scale of the threat is becoming better understood.

Many schools are already making cuts now. After all, the National Audit Office reported that 59% of maintained secondary schools were spending more than their income in 2014-15. 15% were already actually in deficit with the average deficit as high as £326,000. That was two years ago. The situation in 2016-17 will undoubtedly be even worse.

As I wrote in a previous post, cuts of this magnitude cannot be 'managed', they have to be fought. The NAO report also warns the DfE that they "cannot be assured that these savings will be achieved in practice" and raises concerns about "the risk that schools will make poorly informed decisions that could have detrimental effects on educational outcomes".

However, what can an individual school do when faced with an impossible choice as to what they should cut to balance their budget? Resources? Pay Progression? Non-contact time? Curriculum? Staffing numbers? None of these cuts are acceptable. They will all undermine education. That's why the campaign to win the £3billion that schools need to meet rising costs has to be stepped up. 

But how can a school that is facing immediate difficulties defend its students' education while it waits for the wider funding campaign to succeed? There is a view amongst some local politicians that schools can't be allowed to run a deficit. But that's evidently not true! Firstly, the NAO make clear that many schools are already in deficit and, secondly, because the legislation governing school finances has always allowed for schools to run with a licensed deficit. As explained below, schools in financial difficulties can be given additional support - and many already have been.

Maintained Schools
Section 48 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 places a duty on Local Authorities to "prepare a scheme dealing with such matters connected with the financing of the schools maintained by the authority". The statutory guidance setting out what those schemes should contain has only recently been revised and can be found on www.gov.uk.

Listed below are some of the points in that document which could be important for schools to know when they are faced with cuts that they simply cannot make. 


In particular, these provisions make clear that Local Authorities can support maintained schools in difficulties. While also facing their own funding pressures, Local Authorities do have reserves that could be used to support schools. The licensed deficit provisions could certainly be used to support schools refusing to make cuts as part of a mass campaign to demand the Government funds schools to meet real costs and real children's needs.

Here are some specific clauses:

2.1.6 Writing off of debts
The scheme may authorise governing bodies to write off debts up to a stipulated level, with brief details of the procedure to be followed for larger debts. (For example, the Lewisham scheme gives the Executive Director for Resources the power to write off debts exceeding £5,000). 

2.12 Central funds and earmarking
The scheme must contain a general provision authorising the authority to make sums available to schools from central funds, in the form of allocations which are additional to and separate from the schools’ budget shares. The scheme should stipulate that such allocations should be subject to conditions setting out the purpose or purposes for which the funds may be used ... Such allocations might, for example, be sums for SEN or other initiatives funded from the central expenditure of an authority’s Schools Budget or other authority budget.  (So an authority could find ways to assist schools in particular difficulties through such earmarked funds).

4.7 Writing off deficits
The scheme should contain a provision which makes it clear that the authority cannot write off the deficit balance of any school. If an authority wishes to give assistance towards elimination of a deficit balance this should be through the allocation of a cash sum, from the authority’s schools budget. (So, while a deficit cannot be entirely written off, they can be partially financed through a cash 'donation' from the authority).

4.9 Licensed deficits
An authority may include in its scheme provision for an arrangement whereby schools are allowed to plan for a deficit budget. Such an arrangement is normally funded by the collective surplus of school balances held by the authority on behalf of schools. ... Under a licensed deficit scheme the only effect on budget and out-turn statements is that in the latter, the balance goes into deficit because expenditure is at a higher level than the budget share, but this deficit reduces to zero by the end of the repayment period because the school has to constrain its expenditure to effect the repayment. No 'payment' to the school is recorded. (While the 'loan' from the licensed deficit has to be repaid over an agreed period of time, this provision could buy time for some schools while the campaign to win extra funds continues). 

Section 9: PFI/PPP
An authority may wish to insert into its scheme other provisions relating to PFI/PPP projects. Amongst other issues these might deal with the reaching of agreements with the governing bodies of schools as to the basis of such charges; and the treatment of monies withheld from contractors due to poor performance. (Some schools are paying a significant proportion of their budget on PFI charges - yet this is one area of expenditure that could be cut without damaging education!)

Annex B: Responsibility for redundancy and early retirement costs
The default position is that premature retirement costs must be charged to the school’s delegated budget, while redundancy costs must be charged to the local authority’s budget. (Some LAs are telling schools that they will have to find funding for redundancy - adding to the cuts to be made).

Academies
The points above apply to maintained schools but there is also provision for Academy Trusts to apply to the Education Funding Agency for 'advances of funding'. 

The guidance implies that, as with a licensed deficit scheme, the cash advance will need to be repaid. However, a FOI request revealed by Schools Week in 2015 shows that most of the £12.6 million in emergency funding then agreed since 2011/12 would not need to be paid back.

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/12-6m-emergency-hand-outs-for-22-schools/

If the Government found funds to bailout these academies (not to mention banks!), what about all our schools?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Forest Hill School in deficit - how do we protect education for its students?

A community standing up for its school



Last week's packed public meeting to discuss the deficit crisis facing Forest Hill School (FHS) in Lewisham showed the determination of the local community to defend their school. 

The fact that over 120 people attended at short notice was a credit to both FHS staff, who had worked so hard to publicise the meeting, and to the parents and students who attended in such large numbers to stand up for education at their school.

At the end of the meeting, a group of parents formed the Forest Hill Action Group to organise a campaign. As an immediate step, they have been writing to the school asking for parents to be properly consulted over the cuts proposals.

NUT members, who had already won a legal ballot for industrial action, then met this week to confirm their request for the Union to issue notice for three days of strike action before the end of term, action to be taken if ongoing negotiations fail to produce an acceptable solution.

One of the parents present at the meeting, Phil Beadle, immediately wrote a post on his blog listing the threats facing Forest Hill boys as a result of the proposed cuts, ending with this rallying cry: "I call on parents in Lewisham and wider to do the same as the parents of boys at Forest Hill School are doing: to applaud their children’s teachers’ strike action and to stand alongside them on the picket".

The determination to defend education at FHS is clear - but what's the nature of the crisis - and how can it be solved?

Plans to cut £1.3M in staffing costs will seriously damage education at Forest Hill School

Why is a well-loved school without a falling roll facing a budgetary crisis? It's quite right that parents are asking for answers. Trade unions are entitled to budgetary information as part of legal consultation over redundancies - but some of that information is given to us confidentially. That's why the figures I am using in this blog are from public sources - with links to documents that you can read for yourselves. 

Luckily, some of the key information is in a document presented to Lewisham's Mayor and Cabinet last November
This explains that:
  • The school overspent its budget at the end of 2015/16 financial year by £129k.
  • During the 2015/16 financial year the school operated an in-year deficit of £463k and avoided a larger year end deficit by spending its reserves.
  • The budget recovery plan shows the school in deficit at the end of 2016/17 financial year by £879k.
Although the document does explain that "following national changes, the school has had to face a reduction in the Post 16 funding of £150k", it does not explain further as to why the school has been consistently spending more than its income. The blunt facts are that any reserves have now been spent and FHS is now facing a huge deficit.

It's worth noting that this is not the first time that Forest Hill has had these kind of difficulties. A similar report for a December 2010 Mayor and Cabinet meeting stated that "During the 2009/10 financial year it became apparent that the school budget would significantly overspend. The school had overestimated the income they were likely to receive". So why wasn't the Local Authority paying more attention to FHS finances? After all, the November report states that "The school was audited in February 2016 and had a satisfactory assurance" !

The plans to address this deficit are devastating - even if only hinted at in the November 2016 Report:
  • The recovery plan is built around reducing the teaching complement by reviewing the delivery of curriculum, considering contact time, reviewing management structures.
  • In total the staffing costs within the school will reduce by £1.3m
£1.3M equates, with on-costs, to around 15 teaching posts plus a number of support staff who have already lost their jobs. As the report itself says, "Forest Hill School is not affected by roll numbers since it is virtually full in all year groups". Fewer staff for the same amount of pupils can only mean one thing - worse education. The 'review' of the curriculum and management structures will surely mean cuts to subjects and expecting teachers to carry out extra work previously allocated to now redundant colleagues. 

"Considering contact time" will mean cutting the numbers of non-contact periods that teachers use to mark, plan and prepare lessons to an absolute minimum. Given that teacher workload is recognised as being the main driver of teacher resignations and recruitment problems, this step alone seriously threatens staff morale and stability at Forest Hill School.

The document claims that the "benchmarking data indicates that the teaching costs at Forest Hill are £125 per pupil above the average for similar size schools within Lewisham ... so the reductions in staffing being undertaken are reasonable". However, is national benchmarking (also referred to in the report) a fair comparison given that Inner London salaries are higher than the national average? Even the Lewisham comparisons don't appear to add up since multiplying £125 by the number of pupils at FHS comes to nearer £1.3K than £1.3M!

Who is responsible? 

Parents understandably want to know why the school is in this financial mess. A maintained school is a community asset, not a secret commercial venture, and so small wonder calls from the floor of the public meeting for the school to 'open the books' were applauded. 

At a Sydenham Labour Party public meeting a few weeks before, Councillor Paul Maslin had bluntly made clear that, in his view, school governors and management were to blame. Whether connected or not, there have certainly been recent governance and leadership changes and the new Headteacher, Mike Sullivan, has been left with the unenviable task of dealing with the deficit. 

However, Lewisham Local Authority have a clear responsibility for financial oversight of maintained schools as well as, for example, being responsible for the original negotiations of Forest Hill's expensive PFI contract. They must also shoulder some of the blame and must certainly now take responsibility for finding an educationally acceptable way forward.

Of course, that apparent lack of proper auditing is fundamentally another consequence of government cuts to Local Authorities. As the National Audit Office pointed out back in 2011, "some local authorities are reducing their capacity to monitor and support schools’ financial management, at a time when some schools may need it most". Things will have only got worse since then.

My own view is that putting too much effort into apportioning blame for the causes of the crisis could be wasting energies best used on finding a way out of the mess - and a way out that doesn't make the FHS boys, who definitely weren't to blame, pay the educational price for others' errors. However, answers to the 'why' might certainly help with the 'how'. 

It's also in the school's own interests to be open and transparent. Otherwise, in the absence of a proper explanation, some parents will inevitably suspect that something more untoward has gone on - even though I was at pains at the public meeting to explain that there was no evidence that I was aware of that  anything fraudulent had occurred.

Regrettably, rather than being open, the school has instead been sending out letters that try to deny a crisis even exists! Trying to pretend that 'less is more' will satisfy nobody. Describing the loss of perhaps fifteen teaching posts and a demoralising restructuring of responsibility payments as a way to achieve a 'reconfigured curriculum' and a 'refreshed leadership structure' will only add to staff anger. 'Maintaining the quality of our offer with a declining budget' is something which just cannot be done.

Cuts to a school like Forest Hill will also inevitably have an impact on Equalities. Lewisham's own report from last November points out that schools like Forest Hill "like most in Lewisham, have high proportions of BME pupils and have promoting equality and social mobility as part of their mission to improve children’s lives". The report confirms that the Local Authority has a Public Sector Equality Duty - but what will the Authority be doing to carry out those responsibilities in this case? Where is the Equality Impact Assessment?

Is this about Fair Funding and Government Cuts?

The situation at Forest Hill has arisen before the emerging national crisis over school cuts and the additional new threat that the proposed National Funding Formula could make things particularly difficult for London schools. This hasn't caused the problems at FHS - although it would, of course, make things even worse if major cuts are inflicted on a school that's already in serious financial difficulties.

However, many schools, including FHS, have already been suffering from a declining income in real-terms as budgets have tightened. The National Audit Office have recently pointed out that 60% of secondary schools nationally were already spending more than their income in 2014-15, 15% of them being already in actual deficit. So Forest Hill is far from alone in facing a crisis. 

The link between the Forest Hill campaign and the wider 'Fair Funding for All' campaign is that FHS illustrates all too starkly the threat facing nearly every school if the Government is able to get away with its wider school budget cuts. A successful campaign at Forest Hill can also embolden others to stand firm on the cuts that may face them too.

What about the PFI?

When the school ran up a deficit in 2010, some of the blame was certainly attributed to the high costs of the repayments for the rebuilding of the school under the Private Finance Initiative. While the contractual detail remains unclear, publicly available documents show that the Grouped Schools PFI project that the Forest Hill rebuild belonged to had a capital value of £54M. However, the total costs of the unitary payments over 30 years adds up to over £200M! 

A recent Lewisham Schools Forum paper confirms that Forest Hill School is spending over 10% of its Individual Schools’ Budget on PFI payments. Whether or not this is a primary cause of the budgetary crisis, it surely offers at least a partial solution? Rather than demand that FHS cuts its staff and pupils' education, shouldn't Lewisham Council be demanding that the profiteering PFI firms take a cut in their payments instead? 

So what is the way out of this mess? 

Whatever the cause of this crisis, the real issue is how to solve it. NUT members are clear that cutting staff, increasing workload and worsening the curriculum offer no real solution. Instead, those threats risk destabilising the school, driving away staff and parents alike, and making a bad situation even worse.

The NUT will be demanding that education is protected by maintaining non-contact time to allow staff to properly plan and prepare lessons; that there should be no compulsory redundancies; that any changes to posts and management structures must allow a full curriculum for students and manageable responsibilities for staff in charge of those curriculum areas.

While the NUT hopes that a negotiation at school level can help address some of these issues, a resolution may well also require finding the additional funding needed to protect staff numbers. Here's how that could be done:

a) Extending the licensed deficit
 
Section 48 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 specifically allows for Local Authorities to make provision for schools to set a deficit budget. There is nothing 'illegal' about such an arrangement. Lewisham Council have already agreed a deficit budget for Forest Hill School, providing a loan of £879k to cover the school’s budget shortfall in the first year of the recovery plan. The loan is to be paid back over a five year period. This loan could be increased to help reduce the impact of the cuts proposals.


b) Writing off some of the debt

The problem for FHS is that, before such a loan is approved, the Local Authority demands that the school agrees a recovery plan showing how it will be able to pay back the loan over the agreed timescale.

But this puts FHS in an impossible position. The Governing Body faces the same kind of dilemma as the Government of Greece! Not only do they have to reduce costs but they've also got to find additional savings so they can pay back the loan as well. As the school already has almost full pupil rolls, they can't recruit more pupils to boost income. The loan may help temporarily but its terms are still a recipe for severe cuts for years to come. The answer has to be to write off some of the debt.

The provisions for doing this already exist within legislation and Lewisham's own Scheme of Delegation (the same scheme that makes clear the auditing powers that perhaps the Authority should have been operating more stringently).

c) Cutting other costs

The NUT will be asking for full budgetary details to see whether there are other ways to reduce costs that don't damage education in the ways that the school is proposing at present. With PFI payments making up over 10% of the school budget, then that has to be one cost that needs to be looked at. Perhaps the Council or the contractors will have to meet the shortfall instead.

Staff and students shouldn't be paying the price for financial cuts and mismanagement at Forest Hill School. The NUT hopes that, alongside parents, we can build a big enough campaign to make sure that doesn't happen. We hope FHS Governors will put their responsibility for Forest Hill boys and the local community first and join us in opposing these cuts.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Teachers say Stop the Cuts in Education, Health and Social Care



NUT members were proud to take part in yesterday's massive '#OurNHS' demonstration in London. 

Estimates of the turnout have even been put as high as 250,000. It was the biggest ever march to defend the National Health Service. 'Health Campaigns Together' must be congratulated on building such a large turnout. The National NUT agreed a donation to HCT to help meet the costs of the demo and many local NUT Divisions helped support local coaches that poured into Euston from all over the country.

Speakers in Parliament Square included Mark Serwotka and Jeremy Corbyn. HCT speakers raised the idea of going back from the demonstration to build a national day of action with massive local demonstrations in all 44 STP 'footprint' areas, perhaps on 1 May.


For a quick video of the NUT on the march:



For a nurse explaining the attacks on the NHS and what needs to be done to defeat them:


The same attacks are being made on the NHS and on Education - cuts and privatisation creating serious threats to services for local communities and serious attacks on pay and conditions for the staff who work to provide them.

Let's keep building the campaigns and action needed to fight these cuts. As yesterday's fantastic march showed, as well as the great turnout at many local 'Fair Funding for All Schools' meetings recently, if a clear campaign is built, public support will be with us to defend Health, Education and all the gains won in the past that the Tories now want to take away from us.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Workload: Everyone agrees it has to be cut, so take action to make it happen!


"All school leaders should promote a culture of wellbeing in their schools, which will include taking greater account of teacher workload. This could include implementing the recommendations of the workload challenge or ‘capping’ the number of hours teachers work outside of teaching time".  
(House of Commons Education Committee, February 2017)

"Don’t spend time on marking that doesn’t have a commensurate impact on pupil progress. Simple message: stop it!"
(DfE Poster on Reducing Teacher Workload, February 2017)

"All of those taking part in the survey were asked to state to what extent, if at all, they consider teacher workload to be a serious problem in their school. 93% stated it was a problem" 
(DfE Teacher Workload Survey 2016, released February 2017)

There can be no further delay in cutting teacher workload

February 2017 has seen a flurry of new evidence about the realities of teacher workload and the damage that it is causing to both staff well-being and education as a whole. They remove any remaining excuses from any Ministers or school managers that might still want to ignore the problem. There can be no further delay in cutting teacher workload.

Of course, teachers won't have needed to read any of these new reports to know the extent of the problem. Many may also be understandably suspicious, based on bitter experience, that these reports will just gather dust and everything will remain as before. That must not be allowed to happen.

The people that can make sure that action is taken to cut workload are teachers themselves - through taking collective action with the backing of the NUT and other teaching unions.
 

DfE Teacher Workload Survey

The DfE have just released the results of the 2016 workload survey, a detailed analysis of the responses of a weighted sample of over 3000 teachers to questions about their views and working hours in March 2016.

It confirms, amongst other findings, that on average, classroom teachers report working 54.4 hours a week. Those averages were slightly higher for primary teachers compared to secondary colleagues, although secondary school senior leaders reported some of the longest working hours of all.

Roughly a third of those hours - 17 hours on average - were spent working at weekends, evenings or other out-of-school hours. Most teachers complained that the time being spent on marking and planning or preparing lessons was too much:


Not surprisingly, the vast majority (93%) of respondents also reported that workload is a serious problem, and over half described it as a VERY serious problem:


Comparisons between different workload surveys can be statistically difficult because of the different methods used but the hours reported are certainly greater than those that were reported for English secondary teachers in a TALIS report for the OECD looking at international data from 2013.

As the DfE Report makes clear "total recorded teaching hours in the reference week for all secondary classroom teachers and middle leaders in this survey was 53.5 hours per week. This is markedly higher than the 45.9 hours per week recorded in TALIS in 2013 (OECD, 2014). Whilst there remain differences in the survey audience, administration and design, the size of this difference between broadly comparative questions suggests some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016". 

In other words, despite all the promises, workload is getting worse. It's time to act on the promises and cut workload! 
 

DfE Poster on Reducing Teacher Workload

In an effort to show that they are listening to the complaints of teachers, the DfE have just released a poster and pamphlet on teacher workload summarising the advice of Ofsted and the findings of their three Workload Review Groups. All the teacher unions are supporting the poster too.

They certainly provide a useful - and officially backed - summary of some of the findings that the NUT has already been trying to publicise. Teachers and their school union reps certainly need to be using this as an opportunity to make sure that teacher workload is on the agenda of their staff meetings and Governors' meetings - and that firm recommendations are put in place on how workload is going to be reduced in their school.

Some of the points worth highlighting in the poster include:

  • "Don't spend time on marking that doesn’t have a commensurate impact on pupil progress. Simple message: stop it!"
  • "Don't give marking a disproportionate value in relation to other types of feedback. There is no theoretical underpinning to support ‘deep marking’"
  • "Be aware of workload issues: consider not just how long it will take, but whether that time could be better spent on other tasks".
It's worth going back to the original Teacher Workload Review Group Reports for some even more strongly worded conclusions, including:
  • On Data: "Summative data should not normally be collected more than three times a year per pupil"
  • On Marking: "Teachers forced to mark work late at night and at weekends are unlikely to operate effectively in the classroom" 
  • On Planning: "Burnt-out teachers are not best for pupils" and "Detailed daily or weekly plans should not be a routine expectation"
A video from NUT GS Kevin Courtney urging teachers to make use of the new poster can be donwnloaded here. 

House of Commons Education Committee Report

Perhaps the most supportive recommendations of all have come in a Report recently produced by the cross-party House of Commons Education Committee into the 'Recruitment and Retention of Teachers'.

The Report is a damning indictment of the failure of every Tory Education Secretary to do what they were, supposedly, elected to do and plan for adequate teacher supply. 

Some of its key findings are:
  • The Government has missed recruitment targets for the last five years, and in 2016/17 the number of graduates starting initial teacher training fell.
  • Rising pupil numbers and changes to school accountability, including the Government’s focus on subjects within the EBacc, will exacerbate existing problems, increasing demand for teachers in subjects experiencing shortages.
  • Government intervention currently focuses almost entirely on improving recruitment of teachers ... Introducing initiatives to help improve teachers’ job satisfaction may well be a much more cost effective way of improving teacher supply in the long term.
  • The Government must do more to encourage schools to implement the recommendations of the workload challenge. Ofsted must do more to dispel any misunderstandings of its requirements and promote good practice by monitoring workload in its school inspections. 
An inspection that monitored teacher workload might well help in schools where the management culture is one that claims that excessive hours are an 'essential requirement for a good school'. However, perhaps the key recommendation is the following:
  •  All school leaders should promote a culture of wellbeing in their schools, which will include taking greater account of teacher workload. This could include implementing the recommendations of the workload challenge or ‘capping’ the number of hours teachers work outside of teaching time.
Firstly, yes, teacher workload is indeed about promoting wellbeing and work-life balance. These are legal responsibilities that too many school managements seem to forget. But, secondly, this House of Commons backed recommendation recognises what the most far-sighted employers - like those in Nottingham who gave evidence to the Committee - are recognising. Teacher workload won't be decisively lowered unless clear limits are placed on the hours teachers are expected to work outside school hours.

As I have explained in more detail in a separate post, the Workload Charter negotiated between employers and unions in Nottingham states that “the workload requirements of all policies should be reasonably deliverable within an additional maximum two hour period". This works out at roughly an 8am to 5pm working day. That's still a hard working day in a school environment but, especially if it comes with a solid guarantee of no weekend work, this would be a huge gain for teachers - and would also stop the exhaustion and burnout which has been blighting education for too long.

But funding cuts threaten to make things worse

Unfortunately, while some parts of Government seem to be belatedly recognising that action has to be taken on workload, Tory austerity policies threaten to make the workload problem even greater in cash-starved schools. 

With the National Audit Office confirming that school budgets are going to be £3billion down in real terms by 2020 then, unless the Government reverses its education spending cuts, most schools will be forced to cut teaching and support staff posts. That will only make workload - and education - worse as class sizes rise and non-contact time for marking and planning lessons in the school day is squeezed even further.

A small example of that has already been shown in the cuts proposals being made at Forest Hill School in Lewisham, where Governors are struggling to slash a budget deficit. The proposals include an increase in timetable loadings for a classroom teacher from 77% to 88%, meaning that teachers would only have 3 'free periods' a week to mark, plan and prepare for all of their classes. Instead of making workload better as all the latest reports are recommending, schools faced with cuts may feel forced into making workload worse.

Small wonder that the NUT group at the school has just won a formal ballot to take strike action to oppose both redundancies and the workload increases threatened from this restructuring.

Take action to make sure policy becomes practice

Forest Hill is just one school where NUT members are recognising that collective action is the best guarantee that employers will put all of these well-written workload recommendations into actual concrete practice.
 
Just recently, NUT members in the London Region including at schools in Croydon, Lewisham and Waltham Forest have all recently achieved workload gains through pursuing collective action through the NUT. 

Nationally, the NUT is encouraging school groups to use the recommendations of the various reports above, together with the examples of successful negotiations, like those in Nottingham, to open up negotiations on workload with their management. That could be at a school level and/or at an employer-wide level, perhaps through the Local Authority or Academy-chain leadership.

A determined approach to negotiations, backed up by all the latest evidence and national recommendations should bring results. After all, any sensible management should take heed of the many urgent reasons that union reps can present for addressing teacher workload. However, too many will also be feeling the pressure of the ongoing accountability regime and could too easily continue to drive their teachers into working excessive hours, supposedly to improve performance. 

As the House of Commons Report has spelt out, that kind of short-sighted thinking is leading to long-term disaster in terms of teacher supply. More immediately, it is ruining the lives of thousands of teachers and their families, and damaging education for the children they teach as well. 

Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions. If it needs action to improve them, then that action needs to be taken!