United Nations of stress

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Across the globe, teachers are working harder than ever, reports Yojana Sharma

From Romania, Sweden and Greece to England and Scotland, teachers are being forced to take on extra tasks and responsibilities, a new study shows.

It found rising stress and disquiet among teachers around Europe is directly linked to increasing workloads, despite a trend towards smaller class sizes.

And its findings contradict the public perception in some countries that teachers do not work as hard as other professionals. This reflected these governments' failure to acknowledge the amount of work done outside teaching hours or outside school.

However, in countries such as Sweden and Iceland, clearer contractual definitions of the working week and annual timetable "have enhanced the social status of the teaching profession and their responsiblities have become more clearly understood", said the report, Working Conditions and Pay.

The study was carried out by Eurydice, the European Union's education think-tank, and released in advance of World Teachers' Day this Sunday.

Statistically, teaching time in most countries has remained the same in recent years, apart from significant rises in Korea and Spain.

But staff in Greece, Sweden and the UK complained of increases in management work while curriculum changes added to workload in Scotland, Sweden and Romania.

More co-ordination and teamwork was being demanded of Danish and Swedish teachers while cross-curricular teaching had added to the load in Sweden and Poland.

Danish teachers complained of having to do home visits and assess special needs, while integrating special needs children into the mainstream caused strain in Sweden, Slovakia and Romania.

Only a few countries allocate specified time for non-teaching activities and workloads vary, says the report.

Most countries pay extra to staff who take management responsibilities, teach extra classes and train student teachers. But teachers said other extra duties and responsibilities went unrecognised. The study warned that working conditions played a part in determining whether people would join the profession and how long they stayed.

A willingness by governments in England and Holland to keep teachers focussed on teaching is leading to new support posts in schools such as ICT experts, consultants or classroom assistants. The workload deal in England, frees teachers from many administrative tasks, now done by support staff.

There is a greater focus on the challenges of mixed-ability cleasses, incorporating pupils with special needs. Teachers with mixed classes can be paid more, as in Greece, or promoted, as in Spain. Salary bonuses are also awarded to mixed-class teachers in France, Hungary and Iceland. In Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Hungary teachers can cut their hours, while maintaining pay if they work with a mixed group.

Salaries though tend to depend strongly on qualifications and years of service, with the best payers being Switzerland and Korea.

Only in Finland is pay raised whenever policy-makers agree workload or teaching demands have changed.

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