Wednesday 13 April 2011

Workload - teachers at breaking-point

Cuts don’t only hit those who lose their jobs, they leave even greater demands on those left behind.

Teacher workload was already at unbearable levels before the Con-Dems were elected. Under Labour, teachers were already expected to maintain the drive for ‘standards’ by working 50 hours a week or more. With the cuts, workload is set to get even worse.

It’s not just the cuts in support staff, advisers and increasing class sizes that are making the job even more demanding, it’s also the increased levels of management bullying. Like a factory-owner driven by ‘competition’ to speed-up the production line, too many senior managers are turning up the pressure on staff in order to improve their exam league table positions at any cost. However, teachers and children aren’t baked bean cans - and stressed teachers do not make good educators.

The Head at Whitmore School In Hackney - where NUT members have taken strike action to oppose excessive workload - even wrote to the TES recently to complain that “Yes, we are asking teachers to work hard, but surely this is the reason why we all entered the profession? Yes, we do work long hours; yes, we do make sacrifices to give children the best”.

So ‘for the good of the children’, should teachers have no right to a family life, protection from stress and the ‘work/life balance’ set down in our national conditions?

To make sure that staff can’t use even such limited legal protections to limit workload, the Government wants the School Teachers’ Review Body to recommend even “greater freedoms and flexibilities”. As Lord Hill’s letter on Academy status has shown, their real aim is to get rid of national conditions altogether. Safeguards such as guaranteed PPA time and limits to directed time could all be under threat.

But we shouldn’t just defend those limited gains. We also need to act on NUT policy to implement a National Contract that sets down real limits on workload.

With national action on pensions to the fore, there is a danger that workload campaigning will again be postponed to a distant future. But national action doesn’t only have to have one objective, or one sanction. The NUT will have to consider widening national action to include pay and conditions. As part of that, non-strike workload sanctions could also be included alongside national strike action.

Local action can also play its part in defending members against excessive workload. In particular, NUT groups should follow the lead of members in Hackney and elsewhere in demanding schools and Local Authorities agree to a work-life balance policy that can turn the ‘right’ in the Pay and Conditions Document into reality.

The NUT should draw up a model policy based on the one that was successfully won at Morningside School in Hackney. It should include time-costing of tasks and initiatives and enable teachers to use the need to maintain a reasonable work-life balance as a legitimate reason to limit the time taken on a particular task.

Of course, that victory was only won with the help of a strike ballot. Schools should be encouraged to follow the same approach, preferably in conjunction with other schools and/or as an Authority-wide dispute. We can’t let Heads bully our members. It’s time we imposed our will instead.

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