Charter for job revival

12th November 2004 at 00:00
The workload agreement aims to regenerate the teaching profession, writes Suzanne Nantcurvis

To those who have written derogatory comments about the national agreement suggesting that it is a "charter for the lazy" (TES Cymru, September 24), my response is that they have clearly failed to understand the essence of the agreement.

After 30 years of hostility towards teachers, at last a government has understood the value of the profession and introduced Raising Standards and Tackling Workload; a National Agreement. The full title encapsulates the vision and spirit of the agreement.

The search for effective schools and teaching has become intense and the result of this era of scrutiny has been a realisation that effective teaching is about maximising teaching skills through planning and preparing effective lessons.

Time is imperative for this, and with the knowledge that effective teaching is central to real and sustained school improvement, it will be well spent.

The introduction to the agreement states that teachers will not be able to raise standards until they are "free from the shackles of excessive workload".

It has been suggested by some that teachers are replacing their traditional sense of what the job is about. I would argue that they are looking at it through rose-tinted glasses if they think that all was well in the profession before the agreement.

Extensive research in the late 1990s showed that the profession was at its lowest ebb. Teachers were identified as the most stressed and unhappiest group of workers in the UK. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey in 2001 identified workload as the major cause of the mass exodus from the profession.

In 2002, a survey conducted by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru revealed that 50 per cent of the teachers surveyed worked more than 50 hours a week; 98.5 per cent worked at weekends; 87 per cent experienced stress; and 78 per cent said their morale was low.

These results were reflected in surveys throughout the country. Given that recruitment and retention figures were also alarming, it would have been irresponsible of the government not to respond.

The language of blame has now been replaced by a positive dialogue. To ignore this development and persuade ourselves that everything is fine would be foolhardy. The bureaucracy that has blighted the profession has been replaced with the freedom to teach and a new direction for the profession has emerged.

My initial thoughts on reading the agreement were of disbelief. Like so many other teachers, having suffered from innovation fatigue with new initiatives (inadequately funded) thrown at us regularly, I found it difficult to comprehend that a government had given so much in the deal.

The traditional image of the teacher surviving because of a sense of vocation has been replaced by the concept of the highly-skilled professional who manages and leads change and is rewarded realistically.

During the dark years, teachers had taken on tasks that were nothing to do with teaching, almost as a way of justifying their existence. In doing so, the profession became de-skilled.

The national agreement gives us the opportunity to reinstate ourselves as a highly skilled group of workers.

It would be arrogant of us to think that only teachers can do all the tasks that are undertaken in the classroom and schools. The agreement does not dump extra work on support staff - it identifies them as making a valuable contribution and gives them a new career structure.

Throughout the years teachers have risen to the challenges and been at the heart of school improvement. However, it has been at a cost. Why should teachers continue to perform their duties under so much stress and pressure when there is now an alternative?

Job satisfaction has been identified as the way to solve the recruitment and retention problems in teaching. Wales has an age profile that leans towards older teachers. We need young recruits and they deserve better conditions. It is our duty to make this agreement work to improve the profession for future generations of teachers and the pupils in their charge.

Suggesting that the agreement is being used as an excuse for the lazy is nonsense and insulting. I do not know where all these lazy teachers are because in my experience nearly all put their jobs before their own health.

The future for teaching is brighter than we could have ever imagined but we have a large part to play in making it happen. And we need all school leaders to share the vision.

Suzanne Nantcurvis is president of NASUWT Cymru and teaches geography and careers at Ysgol Dinas Bran, Llangollen

Join the debate

Write to TES Cymru, Sophia House, 28 Cathedral Road, Cardiff CF11 9LJ.

Email: Fax 029 2066 0207

Beth yw'ch barn chi?

Ysgrifennwch at: TES Cymru, Ty Sophia, 28 Heol yr Eglwys Gadeiriol, Caerdydd CF11 9LJ. Ebost: Ffacs 029 2066 0207

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