Another View - What did you do on Work your Proper Hours day, granddad?

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

The year is 2020. I sit, beslippered, in my favourite wingback chair. Balanced on my knee is my (yet to be conceived) grandson. "Granddad," he says, the epitome of innocence, "what did you do for Work your Proper Hours day in 2010?"

Oh the shame of it. I could try to distract him: "Oh, look, it's bedtime." But perhaps he will be bright enough to notice that it's only four in the afternoon. No, there's nothing else for it. I'll have to front it up and tell all. "Well, actually, I worked half an hour of unpaid overtime."

That wasn't quite how I planned it. I knew about it well in advance. I even passed on the TUC's poster advertising the day to my workaholic colleague - whose idea of an unexpected day off, like when snow closed the college, is to declare: "Good, now I can catch up on my marking."

In case it passed you by, the day was on Friday, February 26. Its intention was to highlight the way that so many of us "donate" unpaid overtime to our employers - some pound;27.4 billion worth in 2009 alone. The TUC chose this day in order to show that if you worked all your unpaid overtime solidly from the start of the year, it would take until the end of February before you were free of it and starting to work for yourself.

Teachers, it seems, are some of the biggest culprits - or should that read heroes or mugs? Research shows that more than half of us regularly work unpaid overtime, and about a fifth put in as many as 19 extra hours every week. Anything over 10, it seems, is classified by the TUC as extreme.

The problem in FE is not so much hours worked as work load. My contract says that as a 0.5 lecturer I should work 17.5 hours - that is 35 a week if I were full-time. No one actually forces me to be on the premises for the extra seven or eight hours I routinely stay for. Nor do they come round to my house on a Sunday to make sure that those student essays I just as routinely take home with me are marked and ready for Monday morning.

What I do get chased up for, though, are all those demands requiring me to attend meetings, supply figures, fill in forms for reasons of accountability, interview prospective students and complete vast amounts of other time-eating paperwork. Interestingly, none of the things listed above - with the exception of interviewing - are the real tasks of a teacher. Apart from teaching itself, these include planning courses, preparing lessons, marking written work and fulfilling all the extra little student demands that make a mockery of that 1.5 hours of tutorial time provided for on the timetable.

What you end up with is not one, but two workloads. The one you have to do and the one you want to do. Trigger extreme overtime. Work, and non-work, start to blend into one another. Which was how I ended up "scabbing" on February 26.

Friday is not a day for which I get paid to work. But nipping up to turn off my home computer, I thought I would look at my college emails. There were ten of them. Knowing I would have no time to deal with them on Monday, I began to plough my way through. Only when I finished the process did I remember that it was the one day in the year that I shouldn't be working.

But will all this charitable donation of hours ever end? I like to think so. I have a dream that an "Emperor's new clothes" moment will come along. An official inquiry will be launched into lecturers' workload, out of which will come a fundamental recommendation: stop doing all this unproductive extra stuff and concentrate on your real work.

Sadly all the signs lead me to suspect that the Emperor will be strutting around in the all-together for some time to come. And that should it ever happen, it is unlikely to be in my lifetime.

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