Why removing non-contact time is a ‘retrograde’ idea

13th May 2016 at 00:00
Increasing working hours won’t solve the staffing crisis – even if pay is improved, warns pay expert

A proposal for Scottish primary teachers to work longer hours for higher pay does “not add up” and ignores the fact that they already spend longer in the classroom than most of their counterparts in Europe, a key figure in teacher pay decisions has said.

Drew Morrice, secretary for the teachers’ side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), said those behind the idea – designed to address a critical shortage of staff – also disregarded knock-on effects on secondary teachers and existing attempts to boost the workforce.

The proposal from primary school leaders’ body the AHDS drew a mixed response in a survey of 2,500 teachers and education professionals (see box, right, and “A schism in schools over solution to staffing crisis”, TESS, 6 May).

Mr Morrice – also assistant secretary of the EIS teaching union – described the idea as “ill-considered” and “retrograde”. The “sums don’t add up”, he added. The proposal is for primary teachers to lose their non-contact time and work an extra 2.5 hours a week on top of what they work now (to 37.5 hours in total), and get paid for that extra time.

However, if the national formula on preparation and correction time were maintained, Mr Morrice said, increasing overall hours would mean another 50 minutes would have to be added – bringing primary teachers’ official week to 38 hours and 20 minutes.

“If we see teacher professionalism at the heart of school improvement, then teachers must have adequate time to prepare,” said Mr Morrice. “If not, then we shall fail.”

The AHDS solution “simply ignores the evidence from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that teachers in Scotland are among the most class-committed in Europe”, he added.

Efforts to recruit

Mr Morrice pointed out that all teachers are paid on a common scale, so if changes are made to pay and conditions in the primary sector, it might have the “unintended consequence” of introducing different levels of pay in secondary.

He said the AHDS was also ignoring ongoing work to improve teacher supply: several councils are attempting to recruit from outwith Scotland or training employees to become teachers, while others are focusing on coaxing qualified teachers back to the profession.

The AHDS withdrew from the SNCT – a tripartite group comprising the government, local authorities and teaching organisations – more than 10 years ago. Mr Morrice said it should “step up to the plate rather than indulge itself on the periphery”.

He added that, with first minister Nicola Sturgeon committed to maintaining teacher numbers, “cutting teacher numbers and increasing class contact is by any definition a retrograde step”. The EIS has claimed that the proposal could, in fact, have the consequence of reducing the number of teachers because, for example, there would no longer be a need for specialist teachers to cover classes.

Greg Dempster, general secretary at the AHDS, said that despite ongoing efforts to increase teacher supply, there was still “an immediate problem to resolve”. He added that “all possible solutions” had to be considered, and noted that “a large proportion” of survey respondents were willing to give teachers the choice of whether to give up non-contact time.

Mr Dempster stressed that the proposal was intended to “promote discussion” and said he welcomed Mr Morrice’s “valuable” contribution. But he added that AHDS members had told him that covering classes was “their biggest pressure” and he made “no apology” for putting forward what was not yet a fully formed proposal.

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