THE SECOND largest teaching union is threatening industrial action unless a limit on working hours is written into teachers' contracts.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is furious that contracts do not quote the maximum number of hours teachers must work, despite last year's European Union legislation saying no employee should be made to work more than 48 hours a week.
The union claims this apparent anomaly leaves teachers open to needlessly heavy workloads. It is now demanding the issue be addressed in the Government's Green Paper reforms on the profession's future.
Moving a motion at the Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton this week, Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, told delegates that the teachers' contract was "hopelessly open-ended".
The statutory pay and conditions document states that a teacher should work 1,265 hours a year plus "such additional hours as may be needed to enable him to discharge effectively his professional duties".
The document does say that it is governed by the new European working-time regulations, but there is no explicit mention of the 48-hour limit.
Mr de Gruchy said the two clauses were in conflict and demanded a definite time limit.
"Many teachers regularly work between 60 and 70 hours a week," he said. The open-ended contract has swamped us with bureaucracy, driven thousands of good teachers out and dissuaded similar numbers from becoming teachers."
The situation is further complicated because the Government is proposing to introduce an amendment to the 48-hour law, allowing staff to do "voluntary" work without counting it towards the limit.
The union stopped a programme of industrial action on bureaucracy last year after the Government sent out a circular to reduce red tape in schools.
But Mr de Gruchy said the NASUWT would ballot members early in the New Year on industrial action if the Green Paper reforms did not meet its demands.
He added that, although the average teacher works 51 hours a week, cutting the figure to 48 hours would cost nothing because the extra time was spent on "needless" paperwork.
David Brierley, solicitor for the Professional Association of Teachers, said of the regulations governing working hours: "Anything which recognises the importance of working hours, and their part in maintaining health and safety in schools, has to be a good thing."
But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was impossible to stipulate a limit on teachers' working hours. Instead, the Government needed to provide support for teachers - for example, by limiting class sizes and providing classroom assistants - and cut time spent on bureaucracy.
The DFEE said it had no plans to change the contract terms, arguing it would be neither possible nor desirable to stop teachers choosing to spend additional time preparing lessons or marking.