Thirty-five hours and counting

20th April 2001 at 01:00
The introduction of the contractual as opposed the notional 35-hour working week for teachers will, initially at least, have little real effect on "output", if previous experience is anything to go by. During the early years of planned activity time (PAT) the only noticeable productivity increase I noticed was in the number of completed newspaper crosswords.

This had nothing to do with a lack of professionalism. Teachers felt that they were already being profess-ional and resented the enforced session of "detention", especially when it was management directed.

This led to local union negotiators having little problem in persuading members to accept trade-offs between reduced absence cover and restricted time for professional activity.

Some people in the educational establishment have twigged to the dangers of creating "son of PAT", with the secondary heads' chief and a key council adviser on McCrone both coming out with timely warnings about the dangers of authorities and headteachers implementing "mechanistic" procedures and splitting the 35-hour week into "tightly prescribed blocks". Whatever results, the professionalism of some teachers will continue to be boundless, not to say sometimes bizarre.

During a ballot of union members on a deal on a trade-off between staff absence cover and PAT, a group of primary teachers contacted me to insist that they needed more PAT to do their job properly. They were billeted in my school after a fire at their own building, and their zeal with regard to the time they spent in the school was a revelation.

I was a regular early arrival and on the mornings when I used to run to work I got there even earlier. It was not uncommon to see most of the primary staff's cars in the car park. And at the end of my working day some of them would still be in their classrooms preparing for the following day's lessons.

We had only two people on our staff, apart fro myself of course, who could compete with this, and then only in the mornings; well, actually it was two people and a dog.

The dog belonged to a music teacher who started bringing his pet labrador to school when it was a pup. I had to pass the music rooms on the way to my own department and initially I was not bothered by the small cuddly canine bundle in the corridor. "Awww the nice," as Glasgow kids would say.

I kept expecting to see a length of toilet roll flowing behind it. As the mutt grew and became less active I had to take a high step over it or a body swerve round it as it sprawled across the corridor. Perhaps it was the effect of the early rise it had to make to get to school.

The other early starter was a history teacher who seemed to spend all his pre-start time waiting in the common room.

No one complained since this ensured that the urns in the "bothy" were always on the boil when we arrived. His efforts were well appreciated. The early morning gathering in the common room and the chat over tea or coffee was, I suspect, a vital preparation for many teachers - a kind of "soft landing" before the stresses and frustrations of the day. Quite how some people could walk in off the street, head straight for a classroom and start work was beyond me.

It wasn't only classroom teachers who cut it fine in terms of punctuality. I knew of at least one headteacher who would walk past the open door of the common room five minutes before the bell went for the start of the day. At the other extreme was the heidie who issued memos to his staff which had been done on his computer at 3.45am.

The observation that "overprescription" would be resented is right on the ball. It also might backfire on overly prescriptive senior managers who might have to come to school very early to check on staff. They might have to find something useful to do to occupy their time - like make the tea.

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