Monday, 29 September 2014

Teacher Workload - shocking stories require union action

The size of the response to the NUT's workload survey - with over 16,000 online forms completed in just four days - is itself a clear indication of just how strongly teachers feel about the appalling working conditions they are facing. 

"I am fed up of seeing my colleagues near to breaking point, and there isn’t a week goes by where I don’t see someone crying. This has to stop. (Primary teacher, Trafford, NUT survey)"

Full details of the survey have been released this morning by the NUT. The results should be enough to stir a Government that genuinely cared about education into acting immediately to genuinely reduce teacher workload. However, this is not such a Government. Therefore, it's the NUT that will have to act on the results.

Sad and shocking
The detailed content of the responses are both sad and shocking, starkly revealing the reality of the low morale and excessive workload facing teachers:
  • 90% report that they have considered leaving teaching in the last two years
  • 87% know at least one teacher who has left because of workload in the last two years
  • 96.5% say that workload has negative consequences for family or personal life

This latest cartoon by teacher Marcus Owen sums up many of the comments made in the NUT Workload Survey by teachers who find it impossible to spend time outside school hours with their families and friends:

"I hate the fact that I am sometimes willing my children to go to sleep just so that I can work. It's not right.
(Early years teacher, Cornwall, NUT survey)"

Bad for teachers, bad for education

These levels of workload aren't just bad for teachers, they are bad for education as a whole. Stressed and exhausted staff can't properly meet youngsters' needs. Schools staffed only by teachers without family responsibilities aren't going to provide the range of experience needed for a rounded education. 

Of course, if this excessive workload continues, some schools will struggle to be fully staffed at all - or certainly only by a constantly changing staff which will provide no stability for schools, nor for the children they serve:

"I know so many people of all ages and stages of their teaching career who've quit, and I think about it at least 3 times a week … and I've only been teaching 2 years.
(Secondary teacher, Shropshire, NUT Survey)".

What is to be done?

Unfortunately, these facts and figures alone won't be enough to change things for the better. What's needed is collective trade union action.

Excessive workload isn't happening by accident. Today's mainstream politicians are more interested in slashing public spending for the benefit of the wealthy rather than providing comprehensive education that meets the needs of all. 

The new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, may decide to take a less provocative approach than Michael Gove did before her *, but George Osborne has made quite clear that public spending will only be getting tighter under his charge. After all, those who can afford to pay for small class sizes - and for teachers with at least a little more time to prepare and teach a properly rounded curriculum - can make sure their children are educated in the independent sector!

Some politicians - and, regrettably, some short-sighted Heads - will be quite happy to continue with a rapid turnover of young staff, lowering pay bills and increasing 'productivity' as teachers are worked into the ground before being replaced by a new set of recruits looking for an income. 

That's why, over years, I and other Conference delegates from Socialist Party Teachers and LANAC have argued for national action on workload, to stop the growing demands on teachers. In 2012, the NUT and NASUWT did successfully ballot members to allow both strike action and action short of strike action to defend working conditions - as well as pay.

As part of that campaign, national strike action has helped persuade the Government to pull back from Gove's plans to make teachers' conditions even worse by removing the 1265 hours/195 day directed working time limits. However, our
open-ended contract, that sets no limit on our overall working time, remains in place. 

Under constant pressure from Ofsted, league tables and threats of academisation, Heads pile the pressure on staff to do even more work outside the classroom. Staff are put under even more pressure and scrutiny. In this latest NUT survey,
  • 80% say that marking policy now causes excessive workload
  • 70% cite excessive data entry and analysis requirements
  • 62% point to Ofsted preparations and “mocksteds” 
  • 68% want more achievable appraisal targets
  • 67% want more PPA time
  • 65% want smaller classes

National action needed

If we are serious about winning the changes we need, then we need a serious campaign of national action to win a binding national contract that protects teachers from the excessive demands being made on them.

The results of this workload survey should be just the encouragement teachers need to return the consultative ballot papers arriving this week - and to return a YES, YES vote for further campaigning and strike action. But they should also provide the encouragement for colleagues on the National Executive to then put that action in place, setting out a clear calendar of action that teachers can see is intended to win clear improvements for teachers and education, not just to protest at how bad things have become.

The latest NUT manifesto makes some good points about broader education policy, such as the need to return oversight of schools to local authorities. However, we need to also clearly set out our key demands on workload, pay and pensions to teachers, parents and politicians. In the ongoing LANAC reps' survey (open for responses until October 22nd via two proposed demands on workload are getting clear support so far:
  • End our open-ended contracts: a fixed limit on overall working hours 
  • 20% minimum PPA for all teachers in all sectors
Of course, winning these demands means defeating 'austerity' as well. Then the teachers needed to properly meet all children's needs could be recruited - and employed under acceptable working conditions.

Local action needed as well

While building the national action that can continue to put pressure on this - and the next - Government to legislate for changes that would apply to all teachers, then local action by the best-organised school union groups can help protect colleagues from excessive demands. Co-ordinated action across schools can help overcome isolation. Victories need to be publicised to encourage other teachers and school groups to take the same approach.

Different school groups may have different priorities, depending on circumstances. However, the existing instructions under the ongoing ballot for 'action short of strike action' has sufficient flexibility to cover  a range of issues and forms of action, including escalation to local strike action too.

Discussing with school reps, and looking at the national NUT workload survey results, some of the key issues that could be used as focuses for local action might be:
  • Enforcing legal limits such as 'rarely cover' and directed hours
  • Demanding a marking policy that meets work/life balance requirements
  • Enforcing the '21 admin tasks' particularly in relation to data input / data analysis
  • Winning observation protocols and appraisal policies that do not depend on graded observations of lessons
  • Collective action to oppose denial of mainscale pay progression and the imposition of unreasonable targets
LANAC's Steering Committee in Leeds on Saturday October 11th will be discussing exactly these kinds of actions - both local and national - and how we can build the confidence needed to build them in our schools and Local Associations.

Local action is never straightforward as it can soon become a sharp struggle between a school staff and its management - but, if we are going to rewrite the shocking stories in the NUT workload survey, then that action needs to be taken.

Details of the Survey via the NUT website:

 * UPDATE 30.9.14 - Nicky Morgan's Speech to Tory Conference:

Today, Nicky Morgan did, indeed, adopt a more conciliatory tone - while still making very clear that she stands fully behind free schools and academisation. 

Significantly, she acknowledged that teacher workload was a problem, saying "I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well". However, no concrete changes in policy were announced.

Morgan went on to say that "I have set two priorities: Firstly… to do everything I can to reduce the overall burden on teachers… and second… to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching". An interesting sound-bite but what exactly does that second priority mean in practice? If, in fact, it means reducing staffing costs by reducing PPA even further, then this is dangerous double-speak.

The NUT can rightly be pleased that Nicky Morgan has been forced to acknowledge that there is a workload problem but we mustn't be fooled by Tory platitudes. Morgan would be very happy to engage in a long series of talks that then produce some vague agreement that actually has little effect in schools. Now we have to press home our advantage and make sure that we win some meaningful concessions that can really reduce teacher workload.

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