No cut in contact time for one in ten

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
One in 10 primary teachers in Glasgow is still awaiting the full non-class contact time (NCCT) guaranteed under the national teachers' agreement.

And a majority of headteachers in the city believe that delivery of the curriculum has been affected because of difficulties in covering classes while teachers receive their 1.5 hours a week. All authorities have been warned that schools will struggle even more next year.

A survey of members by the Educational Institute of Scotland's Glasgow local association found that almost 80 per cent of the 774 teachers who responded received their full quota every week.

Of the 10 per cent who did not, the main reasons were staff absence and lack of cover; whole-school activities such as trips; in-service courses; or short weeks when teachers were told that they were not eligible.

Willie Hart, secretary of the EIS in Glasgow, pointed out: "The vast majority of respondents are receiving their NCCT as entitled and utilising it positively." Difficulties had arisen over rescheduling of the time due to staff absence, Mr Hart said, but generally these had been resolved professionally.

"A more vexed area has been the operation of the right to work 'off-site'

during NCCT," he said. "This is clearly proving culturally difficult for some school managements to accept." Some 11 per cent of respondents said they had experienced attempts to dissuade them from exercising this right.

Mr Hart added: "Inevitably, such a major change in working arrangements will not be pain-free. No matter how well planned, some hiccups and unanticipated hassles will appear. Unfortunately, the conjunction of the arrival of NCCT with the worst staffing situation for many years in primary schools did not help achieve a smooth introduction."

The survey also found a strong preference for non-contact time being delivered by visiting specialists, although some specialists objected to being seen as "supply teachers" and missed the developmental work that took place with the class teacher. Some class teachers reinforced this point.

There were also reports of schools "losing" a class in order to provide a cover teacher, which led to higher numbers in other classes.

Of the 56 headteachers who responded, 42 reported cover difficulties. Among the solutions used to deal with these shortages were: the headteacher covering classes; assemblies; NCCT not delivered; no learning support; whole-school hymn practice; and the principal teacher losing management time. Two-thirds of heads anticipated problems in their staffing complements next session.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, said that the difficulties were not restricted to Glasgow. "The implementation of reduced class contact time has been a good thing for class teachers, but has been a nightmare for most school management teams.

"I have heard from many AHTS members that they now have to spend so much time in class to cover for the cuts in contact time that they regularly need to work until after 7pm and at weekends to try to catch up with their own job."

Mr Dempster warned that the further reduction in class contact planned for next year will only make the situation worse. Most of the problems were due to the fact that the policy was delivered before enough new teachers had been trained and in the schools.

George Gardner, depute director of education in Glasgow, acknowledged the "significant challenge" for schools but noted: "Class teachers have acknowledged the efforts of promoted staff to ensure the effective delivery of their non-class contact time, often in difficult circumstances, and the positive attitude towards it. What comes through very strongly is the professional attitude of all towards this change in the working time arrangements."

The city is stepping up teacher recruitment and has made 85 appointments for the new session. The pool of staff who cover for absences will go up from 70 to 100 teachers from August. "We therefore hope that some of the problems encountered this year will be less evident next year," Mr Gardner said.

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