Teachers refuse to believe hype on workload policies

20th March 2015 at 00:00
No party has convinced staff they will ease burden, poll finds

Half of teachers do not believe any of the political parties have policies in place to ease the burden of their heavy workloads, a survey reveals.

When asked which party had the best proposals to improve their working lives, just 50 per cent of teachers taking part in a TES poll responded "none of the above".

With just six weeks until the country goes to the polling booths, the lack of support among teachers for any of the main parties is likely to be a major concern in what will be an incredibly tight election race.

According to the TES figures, Labour is the party that teachers believe has the best policies to alleviate their day-to-day burden; the party gained 20 per cent of the vote. The Greens follow behind at 15 per cent, and the coalition partners - the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - trail with just 4 per cent of the vote each.

This is despite education secretary Nicky Morgan and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claiming they have listened to the profession by instigating the Workload Challenge. In response to the results of the challenge, the coalition parties drew up a six-point action plan to help teachers.

Their proposals include a pledge to stop introducing major changes to Ofsted inspections or government policy during the academic year. The action plan, billed by ministers as a "new deal" for teachers, also promises an end to curriculum and qualifications reform in the middle of courses.

But the proposals were panned by five of the main classroom and headteachers' unions. Responses from more than 200 teachers on the TES political panel suggest this feeling is shared by the wider workforce.

Emma Hardy, a teacher at Willerby Carr Lane Primary School in Hull, said the figures from the TES poll reflected her own conversations with colleagues. She described the Workload Challenge recommendations as "pathetic".

And, according to Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL union, the Workload Challenge was a "wasted opportunity".

"Politicians talk about the fundamental importance of teachers in raising standards of education, but none have yet convinced teachers that their insane workload will lessen if they are elected," Dr Bousted said.

"It does not take a genius to work out that teacher supply and retention will be the major challenge for the next government. Teachers do more unpaid overtime than any other profession, working an average of nearly 60 hours a week, including school holidays. And there is a looming teacher recruitment and retention crisis at a time of an 18 per cent rise in the primary school population. All of these factors have a detrimental impact on children's education. So it is sad, but no surprise, that teachers don't feel their working lives will improve on 8 May."

The importance of the teacher vote cannot be overlooked by any of the political parties in what is expected to be one of the tightest election battles in a generation.

The issue of workload was highlighted last week during the TES political hustings, which featured Ms Morgan, her opposite number Tristram Hunt and Lib Dem schools minister David Laws.

Mr Hunt claimed he would put an end to the "relentless initiative-itis" that had emerged under the coalition government.

"I am compiling a list of workload easy wins," he said. "I think the amount of bureaucracy surrounding the Sats exams and the signing in and out and that sort of thing [need to be addressed]. The growing paperwork around the pupil premium is beginning to put some teachers off as well. I believe in supporting the professionals and stripping away the bureaucracy."

Ms Morgan countered that more than 40,000 teachers would not have had the chance to air their frustrations about their workload if "I hadn't come into office and said, `We're having a Workload Challenge' ".

"So thank you to the 40,000 teachers who responded," Ms Morgan continued. "It was brilliant to hear from them. We are a part of the way along with publishing our response and there is a lot more to be done. Firstly, with Ofsted and how it inspects. I do not want teachers looking over their shoulders, nor does the chief inspector."

Mr Laws said an "enormous number" of contributing factors were affecting workload for teachers, but that the major issues were caused by government-imposed policy changes. A period of stability for teachers was vital, he added.

"Now the job of government is to do it, not just to say it. To make sure we don't change things in terms of curriculum, qualifications and accountability within key stages, and that we stick to that."

`The Workload Challenge backfired badly'

Emma Hardy, a primary teacher at Willerby Carr Lane school in Hull, is not impressed with any of the parties' policies for reducing the workload burden on teachers.

The Labour campaigner is even critical of her own party's reticence on the issue. "Labour has not come up with anything concrete; there are no absolute policies that they have put forward," she says. "They are just saying that they will look at workload.

"The Workload Challenge backfired badly on Nicky Morgan. The workforce had begun to trust her, they thought they were going to get something, but what they came back with was so weak, it was just pathetic. A real kick in the teeth."

Too many reforms introduced under the present government, such as the pupil premium and performance-related pay, have piled more bureaucracy on teachers by generating additional paperwork, Ms Hardy says.

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