Gove doesn’t just want to attack pay and pensions. He has also asked the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to make recommendations on changing our working conditions too. This could include attacks on workload protections such as guaranteed PPA and limits on cover as well as threats to further increase working hours and shorten school holidays. If any teacher was in any doubt about the need to take strike action to force Gove back, then surely these threats explain why we have to do so!
The National Union has produced an initial submission to the STRB on these workload threats. Some of the key points it makes are:
· There is no evidence that effective education depends on teachers working longer hours. Highly-regarded Finland enjoys the fifth lowest teaching hours of 37 countries surveyed by the OECD. In contrast, teachers in secondary schools in Argentina teach the most hours but that country ranks low in the PISA 2009 tables.
· In the summer of 2011 a European TUC survey, involving teachers in 30 countries, looking into teachers’ work-related stress. The UK scored highest out of all the participating countries in terms of ‘burnout’ and second highest for problems with work/life balance.
· DfE workload surveys show that that average weekly working hours for nearly all categories of teacher still exceed 50 hours. The main complaint by teachers in the last reported survey in 2010 was the time spent on planning, suggesting that the current ten per cent minimum for Planning, Preparation ad Assessment (PPA) is insufficient.
· Lengthening the school day and school year might prove superficially attractive to some parents, but many would recognise that their primary aged children are mentally exhausted by the end of the school day. Whilst we support improved childcare provision and would welcome better use of school buildings in the holidays to offer clubs and activities, it is important not to confuse education and childcare.
· Similarly, the NUT is aware that many parents find the six week summer break difficult in terms of childcare. This is again, however, more of a comment on the lack of out-of-school provision for young people than an argument in favour of truncating the school summer holiday.
· The men and women working in teaching are often parents too. Many pursue a career in teaching partly so that they can dedicate time to their children during the school holidays. This is a key benefit which allows these parents to feel less uncomfortable about their inability to dedicate sufficient time to parenting during the term time. Retaining teachers who are parents will become much harder if the school day is lengthened or the school holiday is shortened.
· The education systems of many other countries, which perform better than the UK in international PISA tables, enjoy summer holidays considerably longer than those in the UK: e.g Finland 10 weeks; Hong Kong (China) 10 weeks; Canada 9 weeks; United States 12 weeks; France 8 weeks ...
· A shorter summer break, compressed into just a few weeks would also cause problems with millions of families scrambling to book holidays within a shorter period, leading to even higher prices and many more taking their children out of school during term time because of this.
· The Secretary of State has recently spoken approvingly of the longer school day and shorter school holidays in the Far East, but his comments are misleading. Pupils in England spend around 7,258 hours in the classroom between the age of 7 and 14 - above the OECD average. In Korea the figure is 5,910 hours and in Japan, around 6,501 hours.
· Rather than tinkering with the school day and year, the NUT believes that the best way to help schools meet pupil needs is by valuing and trusting teachers and giving them the time they need to do their job properly. To this end we propose that a full time teacher’s weekly working hours should be fixed at a maximum of no more than 35 per week. Within this we propose a maximum of 20 hours of pupil contact time, 5 hours for PPA, 5 hours for non-contact duties and a further 5 hours for PPA to take place at a time of the teacher’s choosing.
· In Scotland a 35 hour week with a maximum of 22.5 hours of class contact time has been established for over 10 years as part of the McCrone Agreement. Whilst teachers in Scotland are not immune to the long hours culture, these limits do at least provide a measure of protection.
· Nurses and midwives in the NHS also have a standard working week of 37.5 hours, with a single harmonised rate of time-and-a-half for all overtime and double time for bank holidays. Police officers have a normal working week of 40 hours on a shift basis, with overtime at enhanced rates for hours in excess of 40. These examples demonstrate that there is no reason why highly trained graduate professionals, whatever their role, cannot work to a contract which specifies maximum working hours.
The STRB is due to make its Final Report by January 2014 - in time, if Gove thinks he can get away with it, to impose attacks on teachers' working conditions by September 2014. That's yet another good reason for the NUT and NASUWT to continue our programme of strike action into 2013 – and onwards in 2014.