Staff say 35-hour week 'is a dream'

16th April 2004 at 01:00
The 35-hour working week, a key part of the post-McCrone agreement, is little more than an unattainable dream, a survey of Moray schools has revealed.

Any suggestions that the agreement is a "slackers' charter" appear to be wide of the mark. Most teachers are continuing to work well beyond their contractual hours - as they did before the 2001 agreement on working hours which was claimed by the unions as a means to control workload.

Follow-up surveys by the unions have shown that teachers still work around 42 hours a week and little has changed over the past three years. In Moray's survey, covering a sample of four primaries and two secondaries, staff say they are "conditioned" to working overtime.

Headteachers and deputes in all six schools report that their workload had not fallen and in some cases had increased.

The majority of teachers felt that a fixed week was an unattainable outcome. "The approach which tried to squeeze all existing practices into the 35-hour working week almost inevitably led to teachers having insufficient time for marking and preparation which had to be done outwith their contractual time," officials say.

Critics, including some south of the border, have claimed that it was madness for Scotland to opt for a 35-hour week when the job could not be done in that time. Others allege that in limiting all contracted work to 35 hours many activities have been sacrificed, including meetings with parents.

In Moray, smaller primary schools found planning and curriculum development difficult whereas larger schools found it was often the weight of marking and assessment caused by large class sizes which added to burdens.

Primary staff commented favourably on the introduction of new approaches to report writing and forward planning. They also spoke positively of "clear programmes of study".

But officials note: "No such benefits were apparent from secondary staff who, depending upon the subject taught, still felt there were inequalities across departments with regard to individual workloads and indeed demand of courses."

They highlight more negative attitudes as staff struggled to identify any tangible benefits. "This may well be due to the continuing pressures created by the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) in particular," senior officials believe.

In both sectors, teachers say that inclusion policies are making extra demands and that some disruptive pupils add significantly to their workload and stress levels. Recruitment difficulties have heightened the sense of "tiredness".

On the positive side, all teachers commented favourably on the emergence of additional support staff and the difference they made to their workload.

"Almost inevitably, however, there was a demand for even more such staff," officials state.

Most teachers appear happy with school arrangements for local agreements and meetings, although there is a general feeling that they need more time for curriculum and professional development. They also need more time or some flexibility for ad hoc meetings with parents, psychologists and other agencies.

Primary staff say they need time to consult visiting specialists.

Leader 16

After the bell goes

* "The job simply can't be done in 35-hour weeks."

* "I'm a perfectionist and I will continue to work all the hours that I think are necessary."

* "We still operate on a high degree of goodwill and co-operation which means we go beyond the 35-hour week regularly."

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