It can work, but will it really last?

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Pathfinder pilots on workload have brought good results but they are not cheap, reports Phil Revell

Schools struggling to implement the workload agreement against a backdrop of budget cuts may be wondering how much teachers' worklife balance will actually improve as a result.

The 32 pathfinder schools which were given funding to try out new ways of working have a better idea than most. Newcastle on Clun primary in Shropshire, which with just 40 pupils is one of the smallest schools in the pilot, got cash for additional staffing, plus funding to create office space. Headteacher Lawrence Gittins was delighted with the results, it's but doubts whether the improvements will remain once the pilot funding runs out.

"I'm not confident," he said. "It's cost the school roughly pound;25,000 more on staffing and I don't expect that we will get that extra money next year."

His bid for Pathfinder funding was based on his need for extra support staff. By boosting the hours of existing ancillary staff Mr Gittins gained a full-time bursar, an ICT network manager and an additional classroom assistant. He said: "It's made an enormous difference to us. As a small school I used to have to rush to the front door to let the postman in. As a teaching head I was always having to leave classes to answer the phone."

Now the school has bursar Chris Kerry, who prepares budget statements, orders materials and handles the paperwork.

But in six months' time the funding runs out and, unless more money becomes available, Ms Kerry will revert to her previous role as a part-time clerical assistant at the school.

Even with the workload money, Mr Gittins teaches four days a week. Most of his marking is now done by his teaching assistant - he just checks it over.

And she does all his classroom displays.

"I didn't have the time to renew displays regularly," he says.

Schools minister David Miliband, who visited Newcastle on Clun to see the pilot in action, brushed aside heads' concerns about funding.

"I believe that people see a huge prize. It involves all sides learning from each other. We've always said that the principles apply everywhere.

You can see it in schools like this," he said.

But when the Pathfinder money runs out next April, the school's governors have tough decisions to make. Shropshire education authority is unlikely to help out. It has an on-going dispute with central government about the cost of running small rural schools in a sparsely- populated area.

"There are issues for next year about employing more people for more hours," said the county's chief education officer, Liz Nicholson. "We need to help schools to look at things that don't cost more money."

Ministers have promised that this year's funding debacle will not be repeated. "The greatest protection comes from the commitment of teachers and heads," said Mr Miliband.

"Two years ago we were being berated about the amount of funding with strings attached," he said. "There will be a sufficient increase for every school."

Other pathfinder schools are more optimistic.

"Workload reform continues to 2005," said David Brodie at Prince Albert primary school in Birmingham. "We shouldn't expect to see all the results in one year."

HOW IT HAPPENED

Three years ago, the Government commissioned a report from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. In spring 2001 they reported that teachers worked intensively, with 50 to 60-hour weeks the norm.

April 2002

Thirty-two pathfinder schools investigate workload reduction. In January 2003 the education unions, apart from the National Union of Teachers, signed an agreement for changes over three years.

September 2003

Teachers' employment contract changes implemented. Schools must consider teachers' worklife balance. Leadership and management time introduced for teachers with management responsibilities.

September 2004

A 38-hour annual limit on covering for absent teachers.

September 2005

Guaranteed time for lesson preparation. Teachers no longer invigilate examinations. Leadership time for heads.

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