Heads too busy for research on overwork

6th July 2001 at 01:00
In an ironic twist, heads are shunning the workload study because they have too much work, reports Warwick Mansell

THE pressures of workload are leading to an increase in downshifting among senior staff to less onerous posts.

The trend towards senior staff giving up positions of responsibility in favour of classroom teaching was highlighted by General Teaching Council chairman David Puttnam, who has urged ministers to look at practical ways to make jobs less stressful.

The Government has launched a workload survey, but headteachers are refusing to take part because they are too busy.

Consultants Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, who are attempting to gauge the pressures on staff at 100 schools, are understood to be finding it difficult to persuade heads to sign up to the research.

Members of the steering group looking at workload were told this week that the study had only a 25 to 35 per cent take-up rate, with many heads complaining of having too much work to take part.

So far, the consultants have managed to identify 50 schools willing to be visited by members of the review team this term, but only 15 of a further 50 proposed for next term have signed up. The visits involve headteachers and classroom staff filling out workload questionnaires and being interviewed. Teachers are also observed working.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "I think this is regrettable but understandable. It makes the point with a degree of irony.

"I understand that some heads have been put off after having taken part in the Office for Manpower Economics' workload survey last year. I understand their point of view, but would call on them to give priority to this work, and cut back on something else. It is vitally important."

The news comes after General Teaching Council chairman David Puttnam claimed last week that increasing numbers of school leaders were downshifting.

The GTC, which has mainly anecdotal evidence of downshifting, said many teachers were giving up senior jobs because of the pressures involved and were returning to classroom teaching.

Papers for last week's council meeting see this as a fact of life, which the Government should accept if it wants to stop people leaving the profession.

The paper suggests that the council, which advises ministers on teaching standards, should investigate efforts to give teachers who may be considering quitting the option of potentially less stressful and more varied work. Teachers, for example, could combine teaching with work for their local authority, or in research, without jeopardising their pension entitlements, the paper says.

The workload survey, which is being overseen by the steering group, was a concession from ministers in the face of union action over staff shortages last term.

The reluctance of heads to join the scheme emerged as the steering group, which comprises union leaders, employers and civil servants, this week met Estelle Morris for the first time since she became Education Secretary.

At this week's steering group meeting, Ms Morris reiterated the Government's position, ruling out the four classroom unions' proposal of a 35-hour working week for teachers.

All have threatened industrial action if that demand is not met. The steering group will make recommendations to cut workload. Its findings will inform the School Teachers' Review Body's report next year.

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