We thought we had a deal

1st October 2004 at 01:00
The much-hyped agreement to cut teachers' hours is not living up to all its promises. But who is to blame? William Stewart reports.

It was not supposed to be like this.

More than six months after teachers' working hours should have been getting shorter they were getting longer.

After the transfer of more than 20 administrative tasks to support staff in September 2003, under the "historic" workforce agreement, staff should have been beginning to notice a significant lightening of their load.

Instead a survey for the School Teachers' Review Body, carried out in March, has found that the average primary teacher worked 52.5 hours a week this year, up from 51.8 hours in 2003.

Primary heads' hours are up from 55.5 to 55.6 according to the survey of 2,300 randomly selected teachers from England and Wales. Secondary and special-school staff have seen marginal reductions in their hours but secondary teachers now spend less time teaching with a drop from 21.4 hours in 2003 to 20.8 this year.

The agreement was originally hailed as a deal to allow teachers to teach.

There were earlier indications that all was not well with the deal signed by Government, employers and every major school staff union except the National Union of Teachers in January 2003.

A TES survey in January found 45 per cent of teachers had yet to benefit.

Government figures the same month showed more than one in 10 schools had not planned how they were going to introduce the deal.

But the review body's survey is the most official, and damning, indictment yet. It reveals that primary and special-school teachers still spend more than 10 per cent of their time on administration, with secondary teachers spending 6.9 per cent. On average primary and secondary staff spent just under two-fifths of their time actually teaching.

Classroom unions that signed up to the agreement blame primary heads and governors for not carrying out their statutory duty to implement the deal.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, threatened industrial and legal action against schools if the situation continued.

She said it was outrageous and unacceptable that they were denying teachers the improvements in their conditions to which they were entitled. Local authorities needed to be more "aggressive" in ensuring that schools carried out their responsibilities under the workforce agreement.

Ms Keates renewed her call for spot checks to be carried out by local authority or union officials, saying taking a head's word for it was not good enough.

Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said: "This is just as much of a contractual requirement as Sats and it is about time that heads, governors and LEAs started to realise that."

David Hart, National Association of Heads Teachers general secretary, said the survey was not good news for the agreement.

He said that primary heads with budget problems had to step into the breach and take on teacher admin work themselves because they could not afford extra support staff. But he was surprised by, and could not explain, the increase in classroom teacher hours. It needed to be brought under control.

In May the NAHT threatened to pull out of the deal unless the Government announced adequate funding by the end of the year.

But this week, at a Labour conference fringe meeting, Mr Hart seemed to pre-empt his union's decision . "Yes we have had problems with the remodelling agenda but we are joined up," he said. "Speaking for myself and for the national officers we are not going to take our bat away."

The review body's survey has more bad news for the deal. The final phase, in September 2005, will free up 10 per cent of classroom teachers' working week so they can do planning, preparation and assessment. But the survey found that they already spend more than a quarter of their time on such tasks.

The Issue: staffrooms, Friday magazine 11

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