Workforce deal must be enforced

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Five years ago the Government struck a deal with teachers which aimed to cut their workload and allow them to spend more time planning lessons.

The workforce agreement, as it is called, heralded a mini-revolution in working practices, encouraging schools to employ an army of support staff to take on the burden of routine tasks previously done by teachers.

How well is it working? Perhaps inevitably, given the complexities of running a 21st-century school, the evidence is mixed. Nearly half of teachers, according to the TES survey report last month, say that despite the changes they are still putting in as many hours as five years ago.

There is clearly a reason for this. Only a quarter of the 3,453 teachers who took part in our online poll said their school had implemented the workforce agreement in full. The news that the Government is planning legislation to ensure governing bodies enforce the agreement fully is therefore a welcome sign that ministers take the welfare of teachers seriously and see the benefits in schools where the changes have been introduced.

Those benefits are clear from our survey of nearly 200 heads and deputies (see page 30), three-quarters of whom say the quality of education for their pupils has improved as a result. Most also report that staff morale has risen, there is greater communication and teamwork in their schools, and teachers feel more valued.

Of course, the Government cannot expect to solve the problem of implementation simply by waving a big stick at those schools that, so far, have struggled to make the changes. As we report today, many heads have experienced increased workloads, often taking on extra tasks previously undertaken by their staff.

If the benefits of the agreement are to be fully felt in every school, ministers need to ensure sufficient funds are provided. At a time when money is tight, that is clearly not easy. But given the rate at which teachers' 2.4 per cent pay rise has already been gobbled up by inflation, the Government must do all it can to show teachers that it values them. That means honouring its commitments to ensure all teachers get their full entitlement under the workforce deal and that every school leader is adequately supported.

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