Unhappy hours

11th August 2000 at 01:00
YET another wintry blast blew through the summer holiday this week with the latest findings on teachers' working hours.

It won't come as a surprise to many teachers or heads - currently rediscovering the joys of spending time with family and friends - that over the past six years their work has increased by an average four hours a week.

Classroom teachers are now putting in about 52 hours a week in term time, almost double the famous 1,265 hours of directed time stipulated in the contract. Primary heads have caught up with their secondary counterparts in devoting something like 60 hours a week to their schools.

Are they spending the extra time teaching children? What do you think? Form filling, mark collating, photocopying, writing lesson plans and appraising each other are the order of the day, frequently blamed on the lava flow of government initiatives and increasing demands for checking and monitoring. And all too often, yet more time is eaten up in covering classes for which a permanent teacher cannot be recruited - which is why the School Teachers' Review Body, which commissioned this research, is right to be alarmed.

Working conditions and recruitment probles are becoming a vicious circle. The worse the working lives of teachers and heads become, the more will leave the profession. The bigger and better-publicised the exodus, the more reluctant potential new recruits will be to embark upon a career in teaching. And the worse the crisis becomes, the more working conditions will deteriorate for those hardy souls who remain.

Famously, the British work the longest hours in Europe. Workers with four weeks' annual leave may think teachers have a cushy number, but the benefits of those long holidays are now outweighed by teaching's bad press. Research into recruitment, also carried out by the review body, finds a huge trainee shortfall, and schools unable to teach the full curriculum.

What should the Government do? Cutting back on paperwork - particularly that which emanates from the Department for Education - would be a start. Limiting initiatives would be laudable, but unlikely in pre-election days. Ministers must take the review body's recommendations, when they come, very seriously. And they should consider the unions' demands for more support staff - if they really want to make teaching an attractive career once more.

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