Boost to hopes for lighter workload

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Consultants suggest guaranteed non-contact time, but will ministers listen? Warwick Mansell reports.

MINISTERS are to consider proposals to introduce guaranteed non-contact time for teachers in an attempt to reduce staff workload.

The idea is put forward in a paper from Government-appointed consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, who are carrying out research on workload in 100 schools.

Currently, secondary staff are entitled to four hours' non-contact time a week, and primary teachers one to two hours. In practice, however, many receive less.

The paper comes after ministers revealed that they may recruit more than the manifesto target of 10,000 extra teachers in the next five years, in a bid to ease pressure on staff.

The study will look at 18 strategies for cutting workload, such as:

* introducing extra non-pupil days at the start of term for planning;

* blocks of guaranteed non-contact periods for teachers;

* more use of support staff;

* more investment in technology to support teachers;

* a bank of computer-based resources to support teachers;

* extending electronic pupil registration systems;

* cutting time teachers spend on planning, preparation, tidying up, marking, registration, school trips and parents' evenings.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers workload study was commissioned by the Government last spring in the face of threats of industrial action from four unions.They have urged ministers to offer non-teaching time, so far without success.

An interim report from the study, based on findings in 48 schools, last month concluded that teachers were routinely carrying out work that could be done by other staff, were inadequately supported by technology and did not have enough time for planning.

The consultants will visit 52 more schools this term before announcing their conclusions in November. In their latest report, they set out to test if the 18 proposed strategies - including the non-contact time idea - could work in practice.

In the White Paper last week, the Government pledged to act on PWC's findings "where the evidence of practical benefits is immediately apparent". Where an idea "needed more testing", pilots will be set up for 2002-3. The White Paper also floats the idea of exceeding its manifesto commitment on extra teachers.

The reports' conclusions are to be considered by a steering group of employers and unions, before being passed to ministers.

There was scepticism from unions this week that the proposals would work without changes to teachers' contracts. They want these to be rewritten to include a limit on working hours and minimum non-contact time.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"There's a leap of faith here that some of these strategies will work simply on the basis of advice to schools, such as reducing the amount of time teachers spend on preparation. These are good ideas, but unless they are backed up with contractual limits, they may not have the required impact."

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