Pressed to reconsider working conditions

20th September 1996 at 01:00
"The many successes of the education service are due much more to the quality of the teachers and their determination than to good management, modern levels of resources or a sound statutory framework."

The teacher unions do not mince words in their demands for new conditions of service.

They want minimum staffing standards, limits on class size, cover and working hours. But they may have a hard time convincing the review body which has so far steadfastly rejected the case for the reform of conditions of service.

Nevertheless the unions, in their submission, said: "We urge the review body to refuse . . . to be constrained by considerations of funding in making its recommendations.

"The political decision as to the provision of additional resources for the education service must rest with the Government. Decisions on 'affordability' are a matter for Government."

The unions claimed the minimum standards they proposed were realistic goals for all schools. They added: "Such standards are essential for the protection of teachers working under poor managers.

"The lack of certainty and consistency inherent in the present statutory provisions on conditions of service, with excessive reliance on interpretation of the word 'reasonable', allows exploitation beyond their proper limits. "

The unions argued that a new framework would deliver fresh support to teachers, underpin good practice, contribute to a changed atmosphere and help attract adequate funding.

They said Government changes ranging from the national curriculum to the new assessment and testing arrangements had increased teachers' workload.

More time was now spent on professional development, staff and parents' meetings. There was more marking associated with homework and ever-growing class sizes.

The review body's own survey on workload showed that in 1996 classroom teachers worked more than 50 hours a week and that teachers with classes of more than 35 worked almost 53 hours a week.

The unions called for a class limit of 30 with lower levels for mixed-age, reception and practical classes.

They said cover should be limited to the first day of an unforeseen absence, that 10 per cent of the teaching week should be free of class contact and that there should be limits on pupil supervision and working hours.

The unions are also seeking the entitlement to a lunch break of at least one hour.

And they said: "The review body must break away from the Government's position and accept that protection from excessive workload must come through national arrangements.

"Limitations must now be put on these requirements to ensure that the excessive hours teachers are currently working are brought under control. "

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