Help could finally be on the horizon for overworked teachers after the School Teachers' Review Body called for an inquiry into their "excessive" workload.
The review body's report says: "The easing of workload pressures continues to be a priority, despite efforts at all levels to reduce administrative tasks and paperwork."
Although in his response to the review body, Education Secretary David Blunkett skirted round the possiblity of an inquiry, a Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said that the idea would go out for consultation.
The review body highlights the evidence of its survey last year, which found that teachers' working week had increased over the past four years. And it compares the average 53-hour week of primary teachers with the findings of a working-hours study commissioned by the DFEE. The study, part of the Work-Life Balance campaign, found that almost a third of employees worked more than 49 hours a week - with professionals most likely to work longer.
However, despite the comparable hours of many other professions, the review body questions whether teachers' hours are acceptable, "especially in view of the demands and pressures experienced when teaching for much of the school day".
The report adds: "There should be a detailed and independently run programme to focus on a sample of schools .. to establish the relative importance of the factors contributing to the overload problem; point to central and local measures to tackle the problem; and identify good practices."
Limits on hours and guaranteed non-contact tme, both included in the recent Scottish settlement, are rejected because they would be "cumbersome to administer, would not go to the core of the problem, and would not enhance teachers' professional status".
Instead, the inquiry will be asked to suggest how the major causes of overload can be eased. "Most teachers believe that the volume of initiatives - generally regarded as valuable in themselves - is beyond the levels with which schools can cope."
However, it also identifies other culprits. The British Market Research Bureau International found a need to develop teachers' skills in areas such as time-planning and management of meetings.
The report says: "The relative importance of these and other factors is difficult to quantify, although our survey and study suggest that individual teachers and schools vary widely in their ability to exercise some control over the hours they work."
But whatever the causes, the review body is clear that the issue must be tackled. "Workloads are clearly an important adverse influence on morale, and on recruitment and retention," the report says.
TACKLING EXCESS HOURS
An independent inquiry to:
* establish the relative importance of factors contributing to excessive workload;
* suggest measures to tackle the problem;
* identify good practice.
Measures could include:
* cutting the flow of initiatives;
* eliminating non-essential planning, monitoring and reporting in schools;
* time-management and work-simplification training.