'Someone still has to do the work'

5th September 2008 at 01:00
The school workforce agreement was designed to improve the lot of teachers. Five years after its introduction, has it achieved its noble aim?

The school workforce agreement changed Karin Bradshaw's life. Before September 2003, the teacher at Bickley Primary in Bromley was like many others in her profession - overworked, with little time for an existence outside the classroom.

"Your weekends weren't your own, basically, and I was also working most evenings," she remembers. "On Sundays, work would be hanging over you because you would have something to plan for next week. But I just accepted it. It was what I had always known."

Then, five years ago, things suddenly began to improve thanks to a deal signed between the Government, employers and most of the school staff unions.

It paved the way for a much bigger role for support staff, and guaranteed that teachers would no longer have to do more than 20 administrative tasks, would have to provide no more than 38 hours' cover a year for absent or sick colleagues, and would have 10 per cent of their teaching time set aside for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA).

For Mrs Bradshaw, then a full-time teacher, it seemed too good to be true. "I almost couldn't believe it when they said they were going to reduce our workload," she said.

"You think you have heard it all before. I thought it would be one of those initiatives that was brought in and forgotten about."

Today, as a part-time teacher who only works two days a week, Mrs Bradshaw is still given an entire afternoon every fortnight to plan lessons and mark work. She can take her PPA time in school or use a laptop to work from home.

"That four or five-hour chunk of time meant I got my spare time back. The work-life balance is definitely there," she said.

That is exactly what the signatories to the agreement hoped would happen. Unfortunately, a TES poll with responses from 3,453 teachers suggests Mrs Bradshaw is in a tiny minority.

Asked what effect the agreement had had on their workload, only 3.6 per cent said it had led to a "substantial reduction".

Another 38.3 per cent said there had only been a small reduction, and 48 per cent said it had had no effect.

One in 10 said the deal had actually increased their workload.

The figures are supported by School Teachers' Review Body research, released last month, that showed the first across-the-board increase in teacher working hours since 2000.

Responding to The TES survey, Wayne Blessing, a secondary teacher from The Wirral, said: "Time protected and tasks withdrawn have just meant more work being foisted on us elsewhere in our ever-changing and expanding roles."

A primary teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, reached a similar verdict. "It's OK saying we don't have to do certain tasks, but who does?" she said. "No one's hours have been increased, no one else has been given the role of completing these tasks. Who does them? Obviously us, the teachers,"

The TES poll does suggest one obvious reason for the continuing upsurge in teacher workload. Only a quarter of teachers said their school had introduced the workforce agreement in full, 28 per cent didn't know and 47 per cent were definite that it had not been implemented.

It is a problem that the NASUWT, one of the agreement's most vociferous supporters, has been well aware of, having uncovered its own "damning evidence" of some schools' failure to implement the deal.

The union launched a campaign this summer urging members to report their schools if they were breaking the law in this way, and wrote to chairs of governors and local authorities asking for their help with the problem.

Chris Keates, general secretary, said: "Where all aspects of the agreement have been implemented - and that is in a lot of schools - it is working well. The problem is in those schools which are not complying.

"In some, it is all part of this culture that is almost a distortion of school autonomy that says, `My school is so autonomous that I can pick and choose what we do'.

"There is also a real issue around whether local authorities are monitoring its implementation as closely as they should."

The Government is also aware of the problem, with ministers poised to announce a crackdown on non-implementation of the deal this term. But why have some schools managed to introduce it without apparent problems while others are still struggling?

Hilary Emery, from the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which has responsibility for supporting schools in putting the deal in place, says those that have introduced a "change management process" have been the most successful.

By that she means involving a team with representatives from all sections of staff, and using the agreement as an opportunity to takes a completely fresh look at how the school is organised.

That was the approach taken at Bickley Primary, where Mrs Bradshaw was a member of its working party. She believes the successful implementation of the deal will have a much wider effect than just easing existing teachers' workload.

"I think this will encourage more people to stay in the profession," she said. "A good friend left teaching partly because of workload. That was before PPA time - it might have made a difference."


Since September 2003

Teachers were no longer required to carry out the following routine administrative and clerical tasks:

Cash: Collecting money from pupils and parents has been taken out of teachers' hands.

Truancy: They no longer have to investigate a pupil's absence, or produce analyses of attendance.

Photocopying and paperwork: They no longer have to type or word process. Nor do they have to copy and distribute bulk communications, including standard letters, to parents and pupils. Bulk photocopying is also beyond their remit.

Exams: Administering exams - either public or internal - is no longer teachers' responsibility. Nor are they expected to produce analyses of the results.

Classroom displays: No more preparing, setting up or taking down displays for teachers, unless they choose to continue the task.

Work experience: Administration for this has been taken out of teachers' hands, but they can be expected to select placements, visit pupils in workplaces and support them with advice.

School administration: Organising cover for absent teachers is no longer down to teachers. Nor is taking verbatim notes or producing formal minutes of meetings, producing class lists, or collating pupil reports.

Record keeping and data management: Teachers don't have to keep or file records, transfer manual data about pupils into computerised school management systems, or manage data.

Buying and maintaining school equipment: They no longer have responsibility for ordering, setting up and maintaining ICT equipment and software. Nor do they have to order supplies, catalogue, prepare, issue and maintain materials and equipment or conduct stocktaking.

Fundraising: Co-ordinating and submitting bids (for funding, school status and the like) is off limits.

Since September 2004

Cover lessons: Schools have not been able to expect teachers to provide more than 38 hours a year cover for absent or sick colleagues.

Since September 2005

Planning, preparation and assessment: Schools have had to allow teachers a guaranteed 10 per cent of their teaching time for PPA, but some authorities give up to 20 per cent.

Invigilation: Teachers are no longer required to supervise any public examinations.

38% of 3,453 teachers said there had been a small reduction in workload, 10% cent said it had increased it, 25% said their school had introduced the deal in full, 47% said their school hadn't and, 28% said they didn't know.

Source: TES workload survey.

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