Give staff their lives back

1st November 2002 at 00:00
THE news that the Government is intending to give teachers half a day off each week for marking and preparation is a move in the right direction ("Ministers to give every teacher a support worker", TES, October 18).

Even more encouraging is the case of Two Mile Ash middle school, in Milton Keynes, where such a policy is already in operation and does not require that teachers are on the school premises during their free time ("Time off to work out, rest and play", TES, October 18).

The majority of teachers spend far too much time at their places of employment, under the widespread misconception that commitment, enthusiasm and competence are best cashed out in terms of hours spent on site.

In several other countries, the primary school day begins at 7.30-7.45am and finishes at around noon. Teachers and pupils are then free for the rest of the day. Some of this time is used for marking and preparation, but it is also expected that teachers will use the time to pursue their own interests, unwind and come into school refreshed and with a positive outlook.

The culprit in England and Wales is bureaucracy, which acts as a constant drain on the ability of teachers to do their job in a creative and enjoyable way. A recently qualified postgraduate certificate in education student told me that she would not be entering the profession because, although she liked teaching, she also wanted a life.

It comes down to a question of trust: recent governments have not trusted teachers to do their job properly and have seen the need to have a system of scrutiny and accountability. The growth of bureaucracy has been a political strategy based on the belief that the devil makes work for idle hands. Until the present stresses are removed from teachers' lives, the profession will continue to have problems recruiting and retaining suitably qualified members.

Ian Frowe

Faculty of Education

University of Cambridge

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