Overworked but the head can't help

4th October 1996 at 01:00
Biddy Passmore reports on the findings of a survey into how staff are coping with increased workloads. Teachers at all levels feel their workload has risen but headteachers feel powerless to do much about it because of shortage of money.

These are two of the principal findings from a second survey of teachers' workloads carried out for the School Teachers' Review Body. An earlier survey (TES, August 9) contained facts and figures provided by teachers about the hours they work; the latest survey took the form of interviews and group discussions with teachers in nine secondary and seven primary schools across England and aims to discover how schools try to manage workloads.

Teachers are quite right to feel their workload has risen. The first survey found many were working up to two hours a week longer than they were in 1994 but that many were spending less time teaching.

They attribute the change to several factors, especially the national curriculum and its many revisions; new arrangements for meeting special educational needs, and changes in the number and ability range of pupils. Teachers in some schools felt they were getting more pupils with behavioural problems and, in some cases, lower academic ability.

Workload pressures were mainly felt to have been imposed "from outside", as a result of national policies, rather than generated within the school. And the increasing load generally related to extra responsibilities outside the classroom, causing conflict between management, pastoral and curricular duties.

"Time is the enemy alwaysI Everyone's pulling at you as a teacher. It's a workload that you know you can't do," was the comment of one department head in a secondary school.

Workload problems appear to be worse in primary schools, where staff have to plan for a wider range of subject areas, there is no middle management and less non-contact time.

Heads of secondary schools have greater room for manoeuvre in adapting to changed circumstances. Some had actively restructured their management teams, re-written job descriptions and changed staffing arrangements in the school. The post of deputy, says the report, "appeared to be evolving into an increasingly strategic role with a professional managerial thrust".

But in primary schools, deputies were being forced to take on more teaching, mainly in response to budget cuts.

Successive reports by the School Teachers' Review Body have said it is for local management to make choices between class size, non-contact time, cover for absence policy and the number of support staff. But this report says that, while this freedom was initially welcomed by heads, their capacity to make genuine choices has been increasingly undermined by budget constraints.

Heads feel increasingly dependent on the goodwill and dedication of staff to "always make do", on the kind of attitude exemplified by the secondary class teacher who said: "I love my subject and I love teaching the kids and when I close the door and I've got me and my students, that's when I'm at my happiest and all the other rubbish that hits you, you deal with because of that time."

Erosion of non-contact time is identified as a key practical problem. A strategy particularly appreciated by teachers was to guarantee some core non-contact time out of total quotas.

Some schools provided cover in ways other than asking staff to sacrifice non-contact time, for instance by employing part-time "floating" staff without class responsibilities.

The survey found that good clerical support and support in the physical and technical organisation of class lessons helped give teachers maximum time to teach. Teachers said a good reprographic facility made a huge difference. In the classroom, more and more use was being made of parents for support.

Class size affected teachers' workload, by increasing not only the number of pupils but also the range of ability across the class. Time spent with individual pupils often spilled over into break times or lunch.

Yet bigger classes were sometimes used to bring in money and protect non-contact time. Sometimes the choice was between increasing class size and making staff redundant.

As they had little scope to reward staff with increased salary, heads were trying to redistribute responsibility points, reducing their concentration in the senior management team and using temporary points to share them among greater numbers of staff.

However, there was a marked reluctance at all levels to taking on extra responsibility. Teachers did not consider the extra money sufficient to compensate for the loss of personal time and added stress and could not see where they would find the time to discharge any additional responsibility effectively.

"They are [already] hanging on for dear life, so the idea of more responsibility is a joke," said the headteacher of a large inner-city secondary school.

Heads were reluctant to use excellence points to reward staff because definitions of these were considered too vague and they felt they would have a negative effect on morale.

Dedicated class teachers were coping with workload problems by working longer hours in their own time and, where possible, reluctantly taking shortcuts such as doing marking in class or setting less homework.

Managing teachers' workloads, second report on the 1996 study of teachers' workloads, was prepared for the Office of Manpower Economics on behalf of the School Teachers' Review Body.

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