How many hours are in a week?

16th April 2004 at 01:00
It is almost five years since Professor Gavin McCrone published his conclusions in A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century. A key element was the workload on teachers and whether they could do the job in the time allocated. Studies for the report showed that "teachers are not alone in working well beyond their notional 35-hour week" and that other white-collar workers such as university staff, ministers, solicitors, police and computer programmers worked longer. Teachers were not out of line.

His initial report, subsequently turned into a national agreement seven months later, argued that measures such as extra support staff would alleviate the burdens on teachers. But it was accepted that "like other professional people, teachers will probably always work beyond the hours stated in their contracts".

Evidence from Moray Council (page one) appears to confirm that view.

Teachers say they are "conditioned" to working beyond their contracted hours and most do whatever they can to get the job done to the best of their abilities. Before the deal, the extra hours could have been regarded as unpaid overtime. Now, it could be argued, higher salaries are part of a professional career structure in which teachers determine the hours they work over the prescribed limit. That is surely to their credit and a reflection of the professionalism demanded by the agreement.

But "35 hours" was also used as a means to limit workload. Union studies showed teachers working on average 42 hours - behind teachers in England - so a contractural position of 35 seemed a reasonable position. The limit was to be a buttress against headteachers unfairly demanding more of their staff. That point is still to be proved.

Further hard evidence on working hours will emerge in the joint HMI and Audit Scotland inquiry into the post-McCrone deal but Moray's findings highlight that one important aspect has not changed: workload is still pressing. There may be more support staff and teachers in schools but curriculum and political pressures are intensifying. Perhaps there is no golden solution after all.

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