Promoted by David Beale, 36 Pleasant View, Withnell, Chorley PR6 8SE on behalf of Martin Powell-Davies of TUSC.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Lewisham NUT reps organise to tackle impossible workload

At a packed Lewisham NUT Training Day last week, school reps met to make plans to tackle the impossible levels of workload facing teachers.

It was one of the best-attended training events we've held locally in recent years, bringing together reps from primary, secondary and special sectors, including academies, foundation and community schools. Significantly, most of the reps present had only been in post for a year or less.

What's causing the workload?
To start the discussion, reps were asked to list the main causes of workload in their school. Not surprisingly, a range of issues were raised. Reps recognised that some of these would need a national solution - through ongoing national action - but we were also looking for issues that we could start to tackle through local action.

Here are the main grievances reps listed - I am sure most teachers will recognise many of these themselves!:
  • Lack of Trust - constantly having to prove your worth
  • Overall working time - teachers never really stop
  • The need for 20% PPA - but also high-quality cover when you are released for it to really cut workload
  • Learning Walks - plus demoralising and critical feedback
  • Marking - both the volume and the time needed to carry out the detailed policy requirements in many schools
  • Meetings - too many, and over and above directed time
  • Performance Pay - pressure to meet targets that can be either dangerously vague or set at unachievable levels.
  • Grading of lesson observations - linked to threats of performance-pay failure or capability procedures.
  • Submitting data - particularly being asked to (re)submit information in time-consuming formats
  • Short deadlines - including emails sent over weekends
  • Better-paid managers delegating tasks to staff without TLRs / leadership time
Some issues were particularly strongly felt in primary schools, notably:
  • Planning - constant monitoring and with excessive expectations, even recording outcomes for individual pupils 
  • Displays - pressure but no time provided to put them up

Setting a 'workload target' in every school
That list of grievances was an important starting-point - but the key discussion was how we could tackle them. 

The training session looked at NUT advice on:
* Performance Pay Appeals and Appraisal Objectives
* Observation and Learning Walk Protocols
* Workload - using the reissued 'Stronger Together' pamphlet
* The recent Ofsted letter clarifying expectations over Lesson Plans, Observations, Assessment and Grading of Lessons

Reps were taken through the steps needed to calculate their school's directed-hours time budget to see if that could be used to challenge workload demands. Other contractual protections discussed included PPA time, Admin Tasks, Cover and a Head Teacher's duty to make sure staff can have 'a healthy balance between work and other commitments'.

Of course, to make that 'Work-Life Balance' a reality, we might well need to back up negotiations with action, supported by the ongoing ballot. For example, those action instructions include "refusing to implement working practices or policies which have not been workload-impact assessed and the subject of agreement with the NUT".

At the end of the session, every rep reported on the particular 'workload target' they were going to propose to their union group for negotiation and, if necessary, action. Here's a selection of the main targets that were proposed:

  • An acceptable protocol for classroom displays
  • An acceptable protocol for observations and learning walks
  • An acceptable marking policy
  • An acceptable planning policy
  • A limit on emails, especially out of school hours
  • A limit on meetings
  • A limit on new initiatives - 'if you add one, then take one away'
  • Stopping teachers having to carry out administrative tasks
Of course, to succeed in these plans, reps knew they needed to build and strengthen their school union organisation. We also made plans to bring school groups together, including after-school 'Meet your Union' sessions to be held in different parts of the borough. 

Lewisham NUT says: 'Let's Stop for Lunch'
Finally, we agreed on one simple initiative that we could publicise across every school. We decided on a 'Let's Stop for Lunch' Campaign. 

It's hardly a radical demand - after all, we're supposedly all entitled to a proper midday break! Yet, how many teachers really get one? We want school groups to organise to make sure that, perhaps at least on a Friday,  staff have a chance to stop and meet together, to chat and discuss - and leave their work behind for once! 

Perhaps the fact that we have to act on such basic issues as having a lunchbreak can help explain to the public just how relentless teacher workload has become. It's also a sharp contrast to those long lunches seemingly enjoyed by many of the MPs who want our votes next May!

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