Last year, ministers asked the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to review teachers’ conditions of service and its report was due to be handed in to the Department for Education (DfE) on Friday (January 10).
The government’s intentions are clear. In its own evidence to the STRB’s review, it calls for limits on teachers’ working hours to be axed to allow schools to implement longer working 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 currently required to work on Saturdays or Sundays.
The DfE evidence also attacked many provisions in the 2003 Workload Agreement.
The Workload Agreement covers teachers in England and Wales and includes the list of 21 clerical or administrative tasks that teachers “cannot routinely undertake”, 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).
However, in its evidence, the DfE claimed that the list of barred tasks “places artificial and potentially over-prescriptive limits on what a teacher can do”. It also called for the “rarely cover” provision to go, claiming its “interpretation” has been a “cause for concern”. It said: “We believe schools need to feel confident that they can legitimately ask teachers to provide cover for colleagues.”
At the time, unions attacked much of the DfE’s evidence as “spurious”.
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 (when approving the move for performance-related pay) 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 National Union of Teachers warned this week that the DfE proposals, if accepted by the STRB, could be the “last straw” for many teachers.
General secretary Christine Blower said: “These proposed changes would be bad at any time but, coming on top of the enormous hours teachers already work, the stress of the job and the changes to pay and pensions, they would be the last straw for many teachers.”