An excuse for the lazy

24th September 2004 at 01:00
The workload agreement is proving an irritant that leads to soured relations among staff in secondary schools, writes Geoff Brookes.

I have tried to love it but I can't. The workload agreement and all that goes with it really gets on my nerves. I am sure that it was necessary in primary schools and served a really valuable purpose. But in secondary schools it has been little more than an unpleasant irritant.

As we work through it and the consequences become clearer, I can only agree with a retired colleague who summed it up very neatly indeed. Oh yes, it is certainly the Lazy Bugger's Charter.

Suddenly, if someone doesn't fancy doing something then they start harping on about the workload agreement. It is a mystical intonement that will turn them from an undervalued dogsbody into a respected professional. By not doing something their stock suddenly rises.

Don't make me laugh.

Good teachers still carry on being good teachers. The best, the most popular, those comfortable with their vocation, do not tend to quote the workload agreement at you.

It is the others. Precious, pompous, perhaps even insecure. All too ready to pass on work to over-worked support staff without a second thought. In so doing they can prove to themselves that they have status.

"I'm sorry, I don't file. I am far too important."

The very core of their professional dignity is now violated because they might have to collect money for a trip. Someone else now has to do it.

Once they only had power over children. Now they have power over adults. It is what some teachers always wanted. Not a teaching assistant but a gopher with no career structure.

Of course in an ideal world teachers would only teach, but in the real world we all have to do other things sometimes.

Schools are attractive and interesting places to work because they are communities and we all make contributions to their well-being. None of us is too important not to get their hands dirty.

Of course, schools have survived for far too long because teachers have been dedicated to all aspects of their institution. So I sympathise with the intentions of the agreement. Teachers have a primary duty to pass on a body of knowledge to the next generation - and lots of things have distracted us from that. But we are in danger of becoming too trivial and losing respect.

My concern is that we are replacing our traditional sense of what the job is about. Suddenly I hear teachers banging on about what they think their status deserves. Suddenly the job bestows rights. I always thought it was about responsibilities. Teachers often quote the legal world as an example of how a profession works.

"A solicitor won't do anything without charging you for it. They charge you when they pick their nose."

Perhaps. But surely we did not become teachers to act like solicitors. We wanted - or should have wanted - something different. We chose to work with children within a community. So we pick up litter. We collect money. And we wipe noses for free.

My colleagues in the school office are bemused and exasperated by it all.

They have really been made to know their place. Suddenly they have a range of tasks to do which are deemed too trivial to warrant the attention of teachers.

They feel that they are being taken for a ride. They do not see teachers being relieved of unimportant tasks. What they see are teachers being idle.

None of us should be too proud or important to pick up litter. We should take an interest in our form group. We should ask them why they have been away. We should speak to their parents because we are part of the school.

When we separate ourselves from that community, then we will introduce irreparable divisions into the life of a secondary school. We may gain a gopher but we will lose our dignity and our vocation.

The small gestures teachers make turn schools into families and make them the places where children want to be. Making teachers aloof, too important to get their hands dirty, is hardly going to build the relationships that schools thrive upon.

The danger is that the profession is diminishing those staff who support us and losing the very respect that the agreement was meant to reinforce.

If the workload agreement frees up teachers to do other things then it is fine. If it transforms others into dogsbodies it is bad.

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed school, Swansea

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