Workforce deal must be enforced

12th September 2008 at 01:00

Five years ago the Government struck a deal with teachers that aimed to cut their workload and gave them more time to plan 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.

But should the Government be waving a big stick? Perhaps they would be better placed looking at the financial and staffing reasons behind non- implementation, especially in Wales. Elaine Edwards, the new general secretary of the teaching union UCAC, is only too aware of the staffing and financial problems small primary schools in rural Wales face every day. With limited numbers, staff muck in, often with little complaint and plenty of goodwill.

With the introduction of the foundation phase, teachers will be expected to work extra hard this year to make up for underfunding and staffing shortfalls.

As we report today (see page 30), 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. The Government must ensure it honours its commitments to ensure every teacher gets their full entitlement under the workforce deal and that every school leader is adequately supported.

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