Our job is to make it work

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Proper measures must be taken if teachers are to see a reduction in workload, reports David Sassoon.

IN striving to reduce teachers' workload, the Government has fallen into the trap of increasing that of volunteer governors. Its historic agreement with nearly all the education unions aims to reduce the 52-hour week currently worked by the average teacher. The key features are:

* half-day a week non-contact time for teachers to carry out planning, preparation and assessment work;

* restrictions on how many lessons (38 hours) teachers must cover for absent colleagues;

* management time for heads and other senior staff, to help ensure a healthy work-life balance;

* the removal of 25 administrative and clerical tasks from teachers'

duties, such as bulk photocopying, producing class lists, record-keeping and exam invigilation.

The Department for Education and Skills will issue guidance on how this will be achieved over the next few months. New and better-trained "high-level" teaching assistants will help. But making these proposals work is a price that governors will have to pay. I suggest that they consider the following.

First, one of the key concepts of physics applies - nothing can be created or destroyed. If a school reduces the workload of one cadre of staff, the workload of another is bound to increase. If most of the "others" already have full-time work commitments, the only way in which the displaced work will be done is by the employment of additional staff - such as high-level teaching assistants or permanent "floating" teachers - often with extended roles and responsibilities.

This has implications for budgets, and also for staffing, which governors will have to review. The school will require a dual structure - one for teachers and the other for administrative and support staff.

This new management structure must recognise the roles these staff will play, with someone in senior management ensuring that their duties are carried out effectively.

Next, governors must earmark more resources to train admin and support staff if the quality of education is to be enhanced. The workload document recognises the contributions of support staff to the national literacy and numeracy strategies, early years and special educational needs. However, classroom assistants in particular are being asked to do much more.

The high-level teaching assistants who will be expected occasionally to cover for teachers by taking classes must be up to the job. The Teacher Training Agency is working on a set of national professional standards which some will use as a springboard to becoming fully-qualified teachers.

Governors will also have to tackle their head's workload. Reviewing how they carry out key functions - devising strategy, promoting accountability and acting as the school's critical friends - will help. Successive legislation has led to a proliferation of governor responsibilities, and consequently of governing body and committee meetings, most of which require the head's attendance.

Can the number of governing body meetings be reduced to once a term and responsibilities devolved, where possible, to committees? The number of committees could also be cut, perhaps one for finance and buildings, another for curriculum and staff and a third for pupils, parents and marketing.

Sometimes the head drafts the governors' annual report to parents. This should stop if governors really want to help their head. They could also keep requests for reports to a minimum by accessing other sources for information that they need for to carry out their monitoring function - for example, local education authorities, Office for Standards in Education performance and assessment (Panda) reports, and their own school visits.

It is unusual for governors to be anything but supportive. But occasionally meetings become adversarial, increasing work and stress for the head. This is not to say that governors must act as the head's clones. But they can be compassionate as well as challenging, positive and ambitious, and apply support as well as pressure.

All school personnel and governors are in this business to provide a first-class education for pupils. The Government has recognised that this cannot be done with burnt- out teachers. Governors must help.

David Sassoon is an educational consultant and clerk to several governing bodies.

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