Burden of work biggest hurdle

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Teachers' lives in Wales have been made a lot happier thanks to the scrapping of league tables and compulsory tests, but workload is still a serious issue, according to the new president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Jane Bennett, a primary school teacher from Barry, said she hoped England would follow suit in reducing testing and praised education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson for doing a "fantastic job" in leading the way to reduce the burden on teachers.

She says she hopes Wales, England and Northern Ireland will now collaborate more and share their good ideas to improve teachers' lives.

Mrs Bennett has just taken over from Brian Waggett as president of the ATL, which represents 160,000 teachers, heads, lecturers and support staff in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. Having been a pupil at Romilly infants school, Barry Island primary and a student teacher at Swansea college of education, she has a particular affinity with Wales.

"I remember I always used to insist on riding on the top part of the bus over to school on the Island," she recalls. "Everyone had to have school dinners then, no packed lunches were allowed and there was never a choice, but it was always good for you!"

After qualifying as a teacher she moved to England and says things have changed dramatically since she started teaching in 1967.

"It's always been a stressful job but there is more constant pressure today with all the changes and extra responsibility. I think there is far too much detailed planning these days.

"Teachers now are under far greater time pressure and there is more paperwork, so there is less time to enjoy the job of teaching."

Married, with two sons and three stepsons, she has taught at Clarendon junior school in Wiltshire since 1986 and is now lead teacher for maths and art and design. But she says she is looking forward to the challenge of being seconded to the union for a year to represent fellow teachers.

Bad behaviour in the classroom and workload will be two issues at the top of her agenda.

One of the biggest challenges, she says, will be to persuade members that the workload agreement and new pay structure for teachers will bed down and be good for the profession.

Mrs Bennett says she is against exploiting teachers for tasks not directly connected to education, and she thinks extra-curricular initiatives such as the free breakfast scheme in Wales are good in principle but need to take workload into account.

"Of course teachers have always had a social role and they want to do their best for children, but I would be unwilling for heads and teachers to be involved in things like serving up breakfasts."

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