Teacher workload crisis: unions join forces to criticise ministers' proposals

Richard Vaughan

Leaders of five heads’ and teachers’ unions have written to the education secretary and deputy prime minister branding the government’s response to the profession’s workload crisis a “missed opportunity”.

The general secretaries from the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, heads’ union the NAHT, the NUT and Voice have penned a joint letter stating that both Nick Clegg and Nicky Morgan’s plans to lighten teachers’ workload do not “get close to the root cause” of the problem.

As exclusively revealed by TES last week, both ministers published what they described as a “new deal” for teachers in response to the Workload Challenge, which pledged to put a stop to major changes to Ofsted inspections or government policy during the academic year “except when absolutely necessary”.

But according to the unions, the “failure” of the government’s workload action plan to properly address concerns around Ofsted, and the added burden it places on schools, does not go far enough and will only “disappoint” teachers.

“[The] government’s response to the Workload Challenge contains little new with regard to inspection and we therefore do not believe your proposals will get close to the root cause of the workload problem,” they write.

“The failure of the response to the Workload Challenge to robustly address these problems is certainly a missed opportunity that will disappoint teachers and school leaders and will hugely undermine the other work that is planned.”

The letter also reveals that the unions put forward proposals urging Ms Morgan to set a target for average teacher working hours per week, and that they called for schools to be given designated non-teaching days for schools during the summer term, both of which were ignored in the government’s response.

The unions also called for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to issue guidance on the need to manage teacher workload, which was also not included in the government's response.

“A better system of accountability can lead to better outcomes for students and remove excessive workload for teachers and school leaders,” the unions write. “Other countries have solved this problem – it should not be beyond us to do so as well.”

Writing in TES last week, Ms Morgan and Mr Clegg said “far too many" teachers were "working far too hard, for far too long – and it’s simply not sustainable”.

“Pressure from outside is a major factor – pressure from school leaders, from Ofsted (whether real or perceived) and, yes, from government," they said.

“It goes without saying that no school leader, inspector or politician ever purposefully creates unnecessary or unproductive work. But too often that’s what happens, and too few teachers feel they have the tools and support they need to cope.

In response to the unions' letter, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to support the profession to tackle the issue of unnecessary workload which we know many teachers are concerned about. 

“We recognise there is no quick fix. But we have listened and have taken firm action by outlining a number of measures, including greater clarity for schools on the requirements of inspections and giving schools more notice of significant changes to the curriculum, exams and accountability, which teachers have told us they want.

“We have been clear that we will monitor progress by tracking teacher workload through a large scale, robust survey next spring and every two years from then. This is just the start, we will keep thinking about ways to help teachers focus on what really matters - giving every child the very best start in life.”

Related stories: 

Teacher workload: thousands respond to government call for evidence – 26 October 2014

Nicky Morgan: ‘I want to build a new deal for teacher workload – and I need your help’ – 21 October 2014

Nick Clegg calls on teachers to explain their workload worries  – 22 October 2014

Nicky Morgan: We must lift the burden on our 'hero'  – 30 September 2014

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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