Ministers seek to cut teaching time

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Nic Barnard, Clare Dean and Karen Thornton report on union and government moves to resolve the workload dispute

MINISTERS are considering a deal on teaching hours and preparation time to resolve the simmering dispute over workload.

As heads this week added to the pressure for action to cut hours, government advisers said they were looking at ways of protecting teachers' non-contact time - with flying squads of specialist staff being one option.

Advisers are also drawing up international comparisons to see what limits on teaching hours other western countries impose. "There is an issue particularly about primary contact time," one senior Labour insider admitted.

A limit on class contact time now looks the best option for compromise in the workload talks which are due to resume after the election - although classroom unions officially say it would not go far enough.

Ministers will refuse to accepta 35-hour week, but a deal on teaching and preparation time, similar to that implemented in Scotland following the McCrone report, would allow both Government and unions to claim success.

The two headteachers' unions this week called for a 20-hour limit on teaching hours as part of a package they will bring to the workload talks. The National Association of Head Teachers general secretary David Hart told his union's annual conference in Harrogate that class contact time was one of "the really key issues" of the talks - not the "potentially dangerous diversion" of a 35-hour week.

John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association general secretary, said: "We agree with the (classroom) unions that the job of teaching has become unreasonable."

Labour's manifesto includes a pledge to offer primary pupils music, sports and foreign language instruction to counter charges of "utilitarianism".

Ministers plan to recruit sports and arts teachers to move between schools, taking classes to free pupils' usual teachers for marking and preparation.

Some big prmaries could have an extra, floating teacher. And specialist secondaries, already obliged to share facilities and expertise, could loan teachers to primaries.

These ideas are likely to be thrown into the workload talks in the same way that ministers have pledged to raise the number of administrative staff and technicians.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, dismissed a limit on contact hours as being of little help. "The mismanagement of schools by some heads is part of the problem," he said. "Of course, primary teachers need some non-contact time but the biggest increase in workload has come outside lessons."

But Mr Dunford said the non-contract time proposal would be part of a package including more support staff, a nine-month notice period for curriculum and assessment changes and possibly a limit on the number of hours in a working year.

"If the Government will not agree to a 35-hour week then what middle position would radically change the job of teaching?" he said.

"This would enable the Government to go more than halfway to meeting the demands of the unions."

The National Union of Teachers said heads should not reject a 35-hour week when it was clearly starting to work in Scotland.

HEADS THREATEN ACTION

HEADTEACHERS have voted at their annual conference to take unprecedented industrial action if the workload talks fail to deliver their demands of guaranteed management time and office support.

The National Association of Head Teachers has never taken action before. General secretary David Hart said: "The patience of heads and deputies is well-nigh exhausted.

"They expect these talks to lead to satisfactory action. If they don't, they will look to NAHT for advice on what action they can take."

Action could include refusing to implement new government initiatives and imposing limits on their working week - currently an estimated 60 hours.


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