Heads say: you want, you pay

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Is the "historic" workload agreement falling apart? Its enemies hope so, though as any Christmas fairy can tell them, they should be careful what they w7ish for. But even its supporters must have had their faith sorely tested this week.

The National Association of Head Teachers remains on board - just about.

More, it seems, because the heads could not see the point of hurling themselves off a moving bus than out of confidence in its final destination. The Office for Standards in Education's reality check demonstrates little progress towards or enthusiasm for the remodelling agenda in schools. Meanwhile, the agreement's most enthusiastic supporter among the teacher unions, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is understandably frustrated with schools' failure to just do it.

Why don't they? Inertia apart, there are two main reasons. The agreement is flawed. It broadly works for secondary but makes less sense in primary.

Secondary teachers already have non-contact time. They just need it better protected from excessive cover duties. The class doing the work set by an absent maths teacher can be supervised just as well by an experienced assistant as by a qualified French teacher. Neither can teach maths. And both are preferable to a qualified supply teacher (even if you could get one for maths) who doesn't know the pupils or school procedures.

Primary schools need to create 10 per cent more time from scratch. There is no shortage of qualified staff to do this - just of the money to hire them.

Assistants are invaluable, but handing over a class to one for half a day a week is not improving children's education. Primary pupils cannot simply do set work for an afternoon a week. So headteachers, particularly primary heads, ask where is the money for extra teaching? More has been provided, we are told, but the reality of funding and rising costs is that it is not enough. Nor was it ever intended it would be. Hence the change of language from "workload reduction" to "workforce remodelling". Heads are expected to be more creative in their deployment of qualified and unqualified staff.

Again, this makes more sense in secondary, where bigger budgets give greater flexibility, where there is more scope for technical support and years of a bidding and sponsorship culture have created a more entrepreneurial breed of school leader.

Primary heads, lacking so much opportunity and incentive to seek out their own sources of funding, still expect straw to be provided if they are told to make bricks.

Call it a dependency culture if you want to insult them. But the reality is that, whatever the law requires, the workload agreement is in danger of stalling because, for all the billions invested in leadership colleges, headship qualifications, inspections, remodelling teams and websites, the Government has failed to provide the model, the understanding and the incentives required to create the culture change it is now relying on in primary schools.

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