Is this the end of the Workload Agreement?


Unions have voiced their anger this week as the Department for Education bid to axe limits on teachers’ working hours and cover duties. Ministers also want to scrap the list of 21 barred administration tasks. Pete Henshaw explains.

The historic Workload Agreement between teachers and government was under serious threat this week after ministers called for key provisions to be axed.

The government also wants to scrap limits on teachers’ working hours to allow schools to implement longer working days.

Ministers have made clear their intentions in evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which is currently reviewing teachers’ conditions of service.

The Department for Education (DfE) cites examples of schools in America which have extended their working day by three hours and a free school here which opens for 51 weeks a year.

Teaching unions are furious and said the move could be “the final straw” for teachers who are already working up to 60 hours a week. They have also attacked the “spurious” evidence they say the DfE is using to justify its plans.

It comes as the NASUWT and National Union of Teachers (NUT) begin a series of regional strikes today, Thursday, June 27 (see SecEd's report, Strike goes ahead after talks deadlock).

The Workload Agreement was created in 2003 and covers teachers in England and Wales. It saw the creation of a list of 21 clerical or administrative tasks that teachers “cannot routinely undertake”, including things such as bulk photocopying, collecting money, administration of exams and ordering supplies.

It also includes the stipulation that teachers should rarely cover for absent colleagues, should not invigilate exams, and should have 10 per cent of their timetable for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA).

The DfE claims that the list of barred tasks “places artificial and potentially over-prescriptive limits on what a teacher can do”. It told the STRB: “There is no evidence in the experience of academies to suggest that the lack of a list of 21 tasks has been abused by managers. We recommend the STRB considers the removal of the list.”

It also calls for the “rarely cover” provision to go, claiming its “interpretation” has been a “cause for concern”. It adds: “We believe schools need to feel confident that they can legitimately ask teachers to provide cover for colleagues.”

The stipulation that PPA time must be provided in slots of no less than 30 minutes is “unhelpfully restrictive” and should be axed as well, the DfE says.

Ministers also want an end to limits on working hours and want to see schools running extended days. 

Current working time provisions state that teachers must work no more than 1,265 hours across 195 days in a year, including five INSET days. Teachers are also not required to work on Saturdays or Sundays.

The STRB is an independent body and does not have to agree with the DfE, but teachers are sceptical after, in its last report, the STRB backed DfE plans for performance-related pay despite questions being raised about the evidence used to justify the move.

Critics have similar concerns this time around. Ministers, for example, cite schools in Baltimore, New York and New Orleans which have extended their days by three hours, saying the move has led to an improvement in maths results in “some schools”.

The DfE also cites a 2010 review of 15 research studies but admits the evidence is not categorical. It says: “While the outcomes were mixed, the studies that explored the impact of extending the school day did find some positive impact on attainment.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the DfE was “producing spurious statements saying that ‘the evidence is mixed but we think we should do it anyway’.

She added: “The STRB last time let itself down and left itself open to charges of bias. Its independence is one of the things it has going for it, but if they do the same thing again, there is no point in having it.”

The DfE also praises ARK academies, which run eight-hour school days, and a free school in Norwich which is open 51 weeks a year.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said the plans would destroy teaching as an attractive profession.

“To add more hours to a profession in which teachers already work 50 to 60 hours a week is unsustainable. For many teachers this will be the final straw.

“It is frankly outrageous that the secretary of state is seeking to destroy the current contracts of teachers by deregulating the school day and the school year as well as changing PPA time arrangements.

“If Mr Gove has a plan to destroy teaching as an attractive profession he is going the right way about accomplishing it.”

The STRB has been asked to report before January 10, 2014.


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