Is there a deal to defuse the timebomb?;News;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Teacher hours are the major challenge facing the McCrone inquiry, report David Henderson and Neil Munro

LOCAL authorities and teaching unions remain locked in disagreement over the structure of the working week as both sides prepare submissions for Professor Gavin McCrone's inquiry into pay and conditions.

The inquiry is to invite views next month on restructuring the profession after publishing a pamphlet setting out key issues such as pay, promotion and management structures, working hours and workload, and other conditions of service.

Professor McCrone is anxious to canvas a broad range of views before he reports next May. "We are approaching our inquiry with a completely open mind and we want to hear what people have to say to us. Our challenge is to draw up a new framework for the teaching profession of the 21st century, in the interests of promoting the best possible education for Scottish children," he said.

But it is clear the battle over the hours of the working week and control over them will continue throughout the inquiry. Disagreement over this was the major factor in teachers' rejection of the authorities' offer earlier this year.

Council leaders are continuing to press for more flexibility in the working year and greater control of non-contact time. The unions are demanding professional autonomy over non-teaching hours, with more time available and specified hours for preparation and marking.

Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, was pressed on this issue two weeks ago by an Edinburgh headteacher but declined to be drawn, other than to emphasise that doctors did preparation in their own time.

Rory Mackenzie, head of Balerno High, said he believed teachers were not given time to be professional. As a partner in a European Union project, it had been clear to him that other countries had far greater time for class preparation, a key element in delivering higher quality teaching and learning.

Mr Mackenzie told The TES Scotland: "Here, with 40-minute periods and a 40-period week, you get six non-contact periods protected, or 240 minutes. In some European countries it's closer to 20:20."

Ken Wimbor, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said:

"Our policy is to secure an increase in preparation and correction time and also to ensure teachers have a degree of professional control."

Some European countries had a 50-50 division between teaching and non-teaching time, Mr Wimbor said. He recognises that extra investment in staffing would be needed but says this is already part of the management's agenda, citing the gradual cut in primary teachers' class contact that was written into the Millennium Review talks.

Unions had proposed a formula for the relationship between teaching and non-teaching time, but it had been rejected by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Mr Wimbor recognised that issues such as additional clerical and administrative support were important in the equation. "The problem is that teachers are facing pressures from all sorts of directions which take up time for preparation. They are doing work outwith working time because of these other pressures," Mr Wimbor said. A definition of professionalism was the ability to set your own priorities.

Danny McCafferty, the local authorities' education spokesman and education convener in West Dunbartonshire, insists the union approach is wrong and maintains that international comparisons do not always compare like with like. Some other countries may envy Scottish educational outcomes and wonder how they are achieved, he says.

Mr McCafferty would not rule out more time for preparation and correction but wants research to evaluate its worth in the context of teachers' jobs. "I have no disagreement with people who want to say teachers should have better conditions or 50:50 contact time but they would have to show educational benefits. If there are, I'm on board," he says.

He also wants developments such as the introduction of classroom assistants, new technology and new community schools to be considered as factors in reducing teacher workload. "I can think of no other profession in Scotland which tries to cram 52 weeks into 39 weeks," Mr McCafferty states, although he is not arguing for cuts in holidays, just greater flexibility in the working year.

Preparation and marking burdens would be reduced if the workload was spread throughout the year. He believes, for example, there may be scope for changing the school calendar to reduce the summer holiday and create a more even spread of terms.

Control over non-contact hours remains a stumbling block. Mr McCafferty is adamant that the differences in hours between class teaching and the 35-hour week must be under management control. "In Scotland, we do not have self-employed teachers," he said. Heads must have time to deliver the whole-school aspects of the development plan.

Professor McCrone will no doubt pronounce on that.

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