Empowered or smothered?

6th October 2006 at 01:00
The 35-hour week, introduced as part of the teachers' agreement and much criticised by some heads, does not appear to have protected teachers from an increased workload - and there is no evidence of "clock-watching" as teachers clock up a 45-hour week on average.

These are the conclusions of a major study on how the agreement has worked out in practice. It summarises the implementation of the new working week as "problematic", and 35 hours is seen as only the minimum necessary to complete the job.

The report, by a team from Glasgow University's education faculty, published today, was commissioned by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. The committee has now drawn up an action plan to do further monitoring on the implementation of the agreement. "We need to find out more about the qualitative issues around teachers' working time," Drew Morrice, joint secretary of the SNCT told The TESS.

"Is it the case that the volume of work has increased or is it that teachers don't feel empowered or in control of their work? That in turn impacts on teachers' sense of professional autonomy, and we need to look at that."

Scottish Executive officials acknowledge that "teachers are not doing the job in 35 hours, but what is less certain from this research is whether the job can be done in 35 hours", as one of them put it.

The research findings partially drew on diaries kept by 2,400 teachers over a two-week period. They reveal that teachers work on average 45 hours a week, although this masks wide variations, with primary and secondary heads claiming to work more than 50 hours a week.

This means that, far from reining in working time, the 2001 teachers'

agreement has actually seen it increase by between two and three hours since earlier studies carried out in 1993 and 2000.

The researchers said: "Teachers' expectations were raised by the agreement that their overall workloads would at least reduce, even if they did not seriously expect them to reduce to 35 hours.

"While there is no doubt that, at a national and local level, the first half of this decade has seen the development of good relationships between employers and teachers' organisations, there is evidence that some teachers in schools are disillusioned and unsettled by some aspects of the changes brought about by the national agreement."

These concerns are to do with workload, but also other factors such as management, career restructuring, expectations about continuing professional development and working out of school.

Teachers told the researchers it was not just a matter of being unable to do the job in 35 hours a week, but that the nature of the job had changed.

"A significant number of respondents expressed a concern that the workload was unsustainable," the report states.

A key element in the agreement was that "non-essential" tasks should be removed from teachers and carried out by others. But, the research team discovered, very few teachers would willingly "give up" activities, such as extra-curricular work, which were seen as part of being a fully-rounded professional.

The study found continuing evidence of a strong commitment to enhanced professionalism for teachers, through such initiatives as the chartered teacher programme and CPD. There were teachers in all sectors who expressed "enormous and sometimes genuinely renewed enthusiasm for their profession", it added.

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