Teachers have backed a call to reduce high levels of workload in schools after hearing how it has been “exacerbated” by the Covid pandemic.
Delegates attending the annual conference of the NEU teaching union supported the call, which includes an instruction to the union’s executive to lobby the government on a workload charter and to set an “absolute legal limit” on class sizes.
Today’s conference, being held online, noted how returning to schools in September “created far more stress than normal” for all staff, including the need for staff to cover for absent colleagues as well as meeting “demands on new methods of delivery”.
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NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “What has been clear over the past 12 months is that the workload facing staff in schools and colleges remains stubbornly high.
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“Even in normal circumstances, teachers work some of the longest hours of any profession, and certainly in excess of the recommended maximum of 48 hours per week set out in the working time regulations. The Department for Education’s own research bears this out.
“Our members tell us that keeping workloads at an acceptable level is absolutely essential to rebuild from the past year.”
Mr Courtney said 85 per cent of more than 10,000 union members said in a recent poll that workload was their top concern.
He added: “They are crying out for the space to concentrate on their essential role, not the endless demands of a data-obsessed government.
“In many workplaces, members have come together in order to challenge the causes of high workload – but not all of it can be resolved at school or college level.
“The problem of high workload predates the pandemic and will, unfortunately, survive it.”
Today’s conference noted that real-terms cuts to school budgets since 2010 had already created increased workload due to bigger classes and fewer staff, and that this had been “hugely exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 crisis”.
Mr Courtney said: “A starting point on the road to solving workload would be for government to make a serious commitment on funding.
“Real-term cuts over many years have caused much damage, forcing class sizes to increase, subject options to narrow, buildings to fall apart and staffing levels to drop.
“Clearly if there was a truly restorative investment in schools and colleges, one that would allow large class sizes to become a thing of the past, then the benefits would be immense and lasting for all.
“This is, however, only part of the way in which we should tackle workload. If young people’s learning is indeed the same priority of government as it is for school and college staff, then the culture of ‘data, data, data’ must end.
“Ofsted and performance tables are crude and unhelpful and distract from the essential work of a school."
Teachers also voted to relaunch the NEU’s campaign for proper funding, and to “heavily promote” those schools that have abandoned workload-heavy tasks (notably those linked to accountability) since September 2020.