It's time to limit the load

13th April 2001 at 01:00
FROM the conference halls of Torquay, Cardiff and Jersey this Easter, teachers are demanding a deal that has already been secured by their colleagues north of the border - a 35-hour week. But their calls are likely to meet a cool response from the Government. Messrs Blair and Blunkett may have repented of some of their harsher comments about the profession during the past four years, but they are not ready to concede a limit on the working week which is absent from other professions. Their political judgment that voters would look askance at such a deal is almost certainly correct. Teachers in Scotland have long enjoyed greater public sympathy than their English colleagues.

Yet ministers would be foolish to ignore the sheer desperation which has led even the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers to vote enthusiastically for the 35-hour limit. The spiralling demands of government initiatives, incessant record-keeping, education plans, targets and OFSTED inspections, have left teachers reeling. A working week of more than 50 hours is average. Many are doing 70. This is not only bad for teachers, it is also harmful to childen and the Prime Minister's goal of higher standards. It is surely no accident that teachers at Thomas Telford technology college, the first state school where every 16-year-old scored five A* - C grades, have a day's non-contact time each week. Guaranteed time out of the classroom and class size limits, key elements in the McCrone agreement in Scotland, must be part of any package which emerges from the Government's review of teachers' workload and conditions of service.

The review will need to take a more fundamental look at the profession's role. Teachers in this country are unusual in the time they devote to extra-curricular activities. Most of their continental counterparts simply teach. In Scotland, the 35-hour deal has already led to anxiety over the future of sport and drama. As the business of assessment, preparation and bureaucracy eats into the working week, more pay for those prepared to referee matches and produce the school play must be an option on both sides of the border. Mr Blunkett insists that the review is about workload, not pay. As the inquiry progresses, he may find that the two are inseparable.

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