Timetable of change

28th September 2001 at 01:00
The new 35-hour working week for teachers is the envy of their colleagues in England, but many feel it is an aspiration and can never be a reality. Raymond Ross talks to school heads and teachers to find out how it is working in practice

Some teachers have begun clock-watching says one headteacher and some senior education figures are worried that the uptake in after-school continuing professional development is beginning to suffer a serious fall-off as teachers stick rigidly to the 35-hour week agreed as a result of the McCrone report. But the response from most teachers to the new arrangements is far from negative.

Both teachers' unions and management talk of a successful partnership approach which is facing teething problems. Some spotlight a minority of schools where arrangements over remaining hours have yet to be settled.

Broadly, teachers welcome the 35-hour week as official recognition of the hard and extra work they have always put in as professionals, while many declare the figure irrelevant since they have always put in more than 35 hours and will continue to do so. That, they say, is the nature of the job.

"Given that this is a radical move away from what we have been used to, it's going remarkably well," says Ken Wimbor, assistant general secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland. "Thirty-one out of 32 local authorities have reached agreement and are providing templates for schools to follow. The other, Shetland, has agreed at school levels."

Areas of concern include how to keep within the 35 hours of the working week and how the teacher's right to undertake certain tasks at a time and place of their own choosing will operate. The very nature of the new school-based negotiating processes is also causing some divergence. The freedom and flexibility to negotiate how the hours are spent is seen by many as a step forward in "collegiate management" and there is a distinct sense from all those involved that they are entering uncharted territory that must be negotiated with care.

"This is a new kind of agreement without detail which can be unsettling," says Gordon Jeyes, Stirling's director of children's services and general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. "Primarily, it's about getting the culture right and the details will look after themselves.

"Everyone has taken risks in this agreement. It's about reasonable and flexible management and thoroughly professional teachers. You have to set the right tone. It's about negotiating, not telling teachers what to do."

Gordon Mackenzie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, says "It's not about winners and losers. It's about children, about educational provision."

The chance for staff to have a real say in working time priorities has been welcomed, says East Renfrewshire's EIS negotiating secretary, Alan Munro. Removal of the much resented imposed planned activity time is widely welcomed by teachers, says another local EIS spokesperson.

But agreeing working time priorities at school level is neither consistent nor helpful, says Leith Academy headteacher Sandy McAulay.

"McCrone is about giving autonomy to schools but many teachers are already concerned about the wide variety of emphases on different elements. Different schools are using the allocated time to do different things, so teachers moving from one school to another could end up in varying contractual situations. It needs to be standardised across Scotland," he says.

Mr McAulay argues that it is virtually impossible for schools to work out on their own the balance between collegiate time and time for individual teachers to do their own preparation and marking against a background of national targets. Teachers, he says, are already complaining about the situation being "unfair" when they see what other schools are doing.

Collegiate time spent developing the school model also eats into curriculum development time. "In short," says Mr McAulay, "we're having to tidy up what should have been done at national level. Schools are being left to pick up the loose ends."

There should be no tension between collegiate and preparation and marking time, says Mr Jeyes, as these should already be a function of the school development plan and he rejects the idea of a national template.

"The one size fits all concept doesn't work because the situation varies from teacher to teacher, never mind from school to school. You look at whatever improves the service. It's about tasks, not time," he says.

How non class contact time is spent is one issue. Where it is spent is another.

The "major sticking point", says Jim Docherty, assistant general secretary for the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, "has been attempts by some heads to say teachers shall do as much as possible of their work within school, which is against the spirit and the letter of the agreement reached in January following recommendations made in the McCrone report.

"A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century says: 'All tasks which do not require the teacher to be on the school premises can be carried out at a time and place of the teacher's choosing: teachers will notify the appropriate manager of their intentions in this respect.' "In other words, you don't need permission. Teachers will generally stay in school for part of this time, for example to cover for absent colleagues, but they can do curriculum development, preparation and marking and even hold meetings out of school.

"This is the biggest single issue and it is one which will keep recurring," he says.

Generally, the SSTA reports few problems except in the area of payment for part-time and short-term temporary teachers, now that it is a 35 hour and not a 27.5 hour week.

"Some local authorities have jumped the gun, one in particular attempting to get temporary teachers to sign contracts for 27.5 hours without proper consultation with unions," says Mr Docherty.

"Another local authority seems to think temporary and part-time teachers will stay in school to do all their work while full-time staff don't have to. This actually goes against a European directive. We now live in a world where temporary and part-time workers cannot be discriminated against."

Secondary schools have found it easier to reach agreements than primaries because teachers have more non class contact time (136.5 hours per session) than primaries (58.5 hours), says the City of Edinburgh's McCrone co-ordinator Rory Mackenzie.

"Primaries have a smaller amount of time to play with and if you average one hour per 5-14 report writing time, that takes around 30 hours away from the 58.5 hours. Add preparation, correction and parents' evenings and that leaves little time for development work."

Mr Mackenzie describes the situation as "a heartache" for primary teachers and heads alike, though under the January agreement by August 2004 primaries should come up to the hours presently enjoyed by secondaries.

Primary teachers feel the need to streamline report writing and forward planning processes, he says, but he worries about maintaining quality if reports are simplified.

Mr Mackenzie's description of the heartache which time constraints may cause primary staff and management is echoed by Kay Hall, salaries' convener of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland and head of West Kilbride Primary, North Ayrshire. But she does not share the widely held belief that McCrone is, as Mr Mackenzie puts it, "a watershed in tackling teachers' workload".

She says: "There are still incredible demands coming from local authorities and, through them, from the Scottish Executive Education Department. The workload is not lessening for either teachers or heads. I don't see anyone leaving school earlier than before.

"There is no workload control emanating from local authorities. National initiatives are piling on more pressure, as are information and communications technology developments which, of course, we want.

"The level of expectations for primary teachers in terms of workload and professional development - we are expected to be specialists in seven subjects - are enormous. They would break the back of most secondary teachers."

In North Ayrshire, a template was drawn up between the local authority and the EIS but this resulted, she says, in the EIS giving their version to teachers and the local authority giving theirs to headteachers.

"The two don't match up. Heads are left to negotiate with staff and this experience varies across Scotland from hard negotiations to compromise, from disinterest to outright rows. Local authorities must be seeing incredible inconsistencies."

Mr Jeyes's advice is: "Focus on the outcomes, on good partnership agreements and we can deliver an education system for the new century."

Few would disagree with the spirit of these words. But many would also agree with the EIS spokesman who says: "The 35-hour working week is an aspiration and not a reality."

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