The dream is still alive

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Your front page story last week was yet another thinly disguised attack on the idea that the 35-hour week should become a reality in schools across Scotland - based on the very representative sample of four primaries and two secondaries in Moray.

A sample that represents about a one 250th fraction of all schools in Scotland has produced the all-inclusive headline "Staff say 35-hour week is a dream". Such a selective interpretation is hardly suggestive of impartiality.

Following the teachers' agreement, there is a clear legal and moral responsibility on all local authorities who signed it to ensure that no demands are placed upon teachers that would push them above the maximum time.

Therefore if teachers in Moray are, by dint of enforced workload, being pushed beyond their maximum hours, then their local authority is in clear breach of the agreement. This ought to have led to the much more factual headline: "Authority not sticking to McCrone".

At this stage, three years into the new conditions of service, it is important to remember that one of the essential guiding principals behind the McCrone report was a real reduction in teacher workload.

It was agreed by all concerned that there was no advantage whatsoever in having pupils taught by teachers who were ground down and exhausted by the demands of 50, 60 or 70-hour weeks.

Thus the 35-hour week was hailed as one the main buttresses that would protect teachers from excessive demands and give them some professional control over their working week.

This does, of course, mean that some aspects of the job have to be delayed, reorganised or disappear altogether - a small price to pay if it means that pupils are taught by teachers whose energies are mainly focused upon the teaching and learning process.

I and many of my colleagues have found the 35-hour week to be "a dream" - in the sense that it is a reality which has released us from the nightmare of constantly increasing demands. It is also the one aspect of McCrone that has impacted positively on the pupils' experience by ensuring that their teachers spend the greater part of the week on matters directly related to teaching and learning.

Finally and most ironically of all, a few pages on from the opening headline The TES Scotland carried the story of one teacher who had been driven to depression and eventual retirement due to ill-health by constantly having to work 60 to 70-hour weeks. This is precisely why the new conditions of service were introduced in Scotland.

If the 35-hour week is not upheld and preserved, then this will be the unfortunate fate that will await many teachers in our ageing profession.

Brendan McCole Principal teacher of modern languages Douglas Ewart High Newton Stewart

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