A teaching union has backed calls to reduce the number of hours teachers spend in the classroom and to set a maximum class size of 20.
The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, which is holding its three-day AGM in Perth, has backed a proposal to campaign to reduce teachers’ contact time from 22.5 hours per week to 20, although many members ultimately want to reduce that to 17.5 hours.
The campaign would also call for a maximum class size of 20 for “all mainstream classes”. The maximum size at the moment is 33 for most classes, although in the first year of primary school it is 25.
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Andrew Fullwood, a Glasgow teacher who spoke in favour of the proposed campaign, said that reduced class-contact time would allow teachers “to plan, to reflect, to focus on learning and teaching”.
He added that it would be “a long time before we need to go on strike” over reducing contact time, but that ultimately action might be needed.
Mr Fullwood said that more teachers and more schools would be required to make it work and that reducing contact time significantly will “take time”. Ultimately, he said, 17.5 hours of contact time was the “gold standard” that should be aimed for.
Jennifer Gaffney, a South Lanarkshire EIS representative, said that – like Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico – Scotland was one of the few countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development where teachers had 800-plus class-contact hours a year, whereas Finland had under 600.
Most successful countries had “realistic, fair contact time”, said Ms Gaffney, and an initial reduction to 20 hours a week would help teachers in Scotland flourish like teachers in Scandinavia, who have less class-contact time.
She added that teachers are required to make “more decisions in one day than a brain surgeon” and that, under the current arrangements, “the reality is that we are done in”.
Glasgow local secretary Susan Quinn, a former EIS president, said that reducing class sizes to 20 would have to be done incrementally, starting from P1 and working upwards.
A motion on reducing class-contact time and class sizes, from the union's Glasgow and South Lanarkshire branches, was overwhelmingly backed by the 350 delegates at the AGM.
Most teachers are working far more than their contracted hours, an EIS survey of more than 12,000 teaching staff found this week.
That prompted concerns about the impact on mental health and family life, and led to a call for urgent action over a recent national agreement on teacher workload.
After the resolution of the long-running teacher pay dispute earlier this year, workload looks set to become the EIS’s biggest priority over the coming months.
In his speech to the AGM this afternoon, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said that great “professional autonomy” would be “critical” to reducing teachers’ workload.
He pointed to Finland as an example of how to reduce the burden on teachers: when Mr Flanagan visited the country, he said, a government official was asked how the Finnish education system could be monitored when there was no schools inspectorate. The answer, he said, was: “We trust our teachers.”
Some 59 motions were scheduled at this year’s AGM, which started yesterday and concludes tomorrow.