Dear Professor McCormac ..

10th June 2011 at 01:00
An open letter to the chair of the teacher employment review

As you deliberate on your review of the McCrone Agreement of early 2001, I'm sure you will have been inundated with submissions from all manner of interested parties. There has been some criticism of the make-up of your review group, but my concern is that your group's remit has already determined its own answer.

It's worth noting that the very first sentence of the McCrone Agreement's introduction stated that it "outlines the agreement reached to improve the professional conditions of service and pay for teachers". The order here is important. "A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century" was first and foremost a workload agreement; pay was a secondary, albeit important, issue.

Prior to 2001, teachers in Scotland worked a "notional" 32.5-hour working week. Broadly, this consisted of 27.5 hours "normal school day" plus a further five hours per week for parents' nights, reports and so on. Of course, very few teachers worked a mere 32.5 hours, and those who tried often found themselves criticised as lazy.

McCrone's first main task was to bring the rising teacher workload under control, and to achieve this the agreement set a maximum 35-hour week for all teachers. The word "notional" was conspicuous by its absence.

What then happened was that many teaching managers forgot to read the script, and took the 35 hours to be "notional" - as in "of course, everyone knows you can't do the job in just 35 hours". In so doing, they effectively convinced themselves that the working week was being increased by 150 minutes - 8 per cent - and that workload could be increased by (at least) 8 per cent as well. In authorities across Scotland, managers used the McCrone agreement to ramp up teaching duties. Tasks have been found - in some cases simply invented - to create more work.

The most cursory study should show that the work pattern of the vast majority of teachers far exceeds 35 hours, but that doesn't mean that managers can shirk their responsibility to try to limit the workload so that it can be done in the allocated time. If you want teachers to go the extra mile for education, I'd suggest that forced labour is not the best way forward. Instead, you need to make a genuine effort to restrict the teacher workload and then the profession will be far more likely to give extra hours willingly. My guess is that for every teacher who manages to put in fewer than 35 hours, 50 at least will be giving very many more. There's a serious danger of alienating your best practitioners here.

So my concern is that your review seems not to be asking if the McCrone Agreement has actually "improved the professional conditions of service for teachers". Your questionnaire doesn't ask teachers like me if I feel that employers have kept their side of the bargain. But - just for the record - the answer is "No".

Yours sincerely, Gordon Lawrie, Modern studies teacher.

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