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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Do teachers work too hard?
Britain's biggest teachers' union has voted unanimously for industrial action. in support of a shorter working week.
The National Union of Teachers adopted the motion as part of a joint campaign with other teachers' unions.
Campaigners call for a 35-hour working week for teachers. Earlier, an independent review found that many teachers worked more than 50 hours a week in term time, with some exceeding 60.
Speaking at the NUT conference, the education secretary Estelle Morris said, however. that 20% of teachers' current tasks could be taken on by other staff.
This could lead to a compromiseand cut the average working week to about 42 hours.
Should a limit on the working week be written into teachers' contract of employment? Should there be national conditions of service at all? Or should schools be free to set their own hours and rates of pay?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I see teachers here calling for respect for their profession. As a non-parent, my image of teaching is gleaned from their public performances, of which the most striking are the annual union conferences. Scruffy, militant and destructive is the impression I get of the teaching profession from these gatherings. The NUT even think they are important enough to vote on the Middle East.
Teachers, if you want to be seen as professionals, then clean up your union act.
I always work more than 50 hours a week. Besides, I am on call out support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week unless of course I am on my annual leave. i.e. if I am on leave and within UK I still can expect a call for system support. I do not get paid any overtime. I think teachers should rather think that if they want their salaries to be incremented, then they need to perhaps produce a lot more effort than at the moment. Undoubtedly, if teachers remember that their primary duty as a teacher is to educate our young ones, then in some time we will see that the students will also grow respect for them. At the moment, it is a free for all situations where the students and teachers both lack any moral obligation towards each other and hence the precarious position our school system is in.
Are you joking? Finishing at 3.30pm with about 12 weeks holiday a year? Oh please! Let me get the violin out!
Lots of holidays and a dream job. What was the problem?
Carol Lesley, UK
Teachers are hard workers, however on a recent news report a survey in the Nursing Times magazine result said 94% of nurses would consider an strike. In the current atmosphere with train drivers striking for more pay, myself a qualified nurse with over twenty years experience still earning less than £18,000 - yet they are arguing for £26,000. Why are nurses not seen as professionals? As teachers, police etc. We now have university diplomas/degrees and must continually study to continue to practise our profession.
I have stood in my son's school and been bewildered by the childish attitude I have seen there, I have seen teachers whining at pupils (age up to 8) about making work for them, I have been told by my sons teacher that she doesn't have time to attend to his special marking at the end of the week, so he has to do it himself. Teachers forget that parents have to start the day 2 hours earlier than them to drop children off, go and do a days work, then get back to collect. The only difference is that most of us don't get 13 weeks holiday a year.
Whilst the rest of us work 40+ hours a week, with an average of 20 days holiday a year, the teachers start a campaign for a 35 hour week whilst on a 10-15 day Easter break... and they want support? Come on, get real!
Derek Blyth, UK
My mum is a special needs teacher who deals with children with behavioural difficulties. There are some very bright children in her class, however for these children to succeed my mum has to work flat out night and day.
Comments from Robin Gibson, Scotland are short sighted and show no understanding. What most people fail to realise is that it's teachers that create the foundation for children to work from and to go on to have successful careers.
It seems to me that the hardest done
by are the lowest paid and have the
longest working hours.
It is also noticable that they tend to be
in the public sector.
Why is it that the doctors, nurses, teachers
are all having to work much more than
35 hours a week, while the fat-cat company
directors do the odd hour here and there
and get paid a fortune?
Is this down to bad management?
Is it down to their union not being strong enough?
No. It is down to bad policy by Government.
Wastage by Government (on crazy red tape).
Lack of investment by Government.
It is my opinion that teachers do not work any harder that people in any other profession ranging from the hotel cleaner to the high-flying executive.
What we do tend to forget is that the future of our nation is their hands. Lacklustre teaching provides a generation academically below par and thus our future leaders, professionals and ancillary workers will be of a lower standing. Ask yourselves how do we then compete with the rest of the world if our teaching profession has not delivered?
My advice is: protect the teachers, don't abuse and ridicule them.
Annette Gregory, England
While the majority of our teachers are dedicated, hard working and undervalued there are however some who should be rooted out and booted out and find other ways to make a living besides ruining the future of our children.
Britain has the same problems we have in the USA. I find the people who
complain the loudest are the same people who justify obscene salaries of athletes.
I honestly believe that teachers do a full day's work - if only they could do a full year's work everyone would be more sympathetic.
Working in college, I know that the teaching staff get 45 days paid leave per year and are rarely seen on the premises outside of term time. This generates little sympathy amongst we support staff who get an average of 23 days leave per year, don't get to spend a number of months away from the premises (six weeks summer, two at Christmas and Easter, three half term weeks) or spend half our working hours at home and earn about half the pay.
Robin Gibson, Scotland
The biggest single workload problem recently for GCSE and post 16 is the huge rise in coursework and the subsequent amount of marking time this has created for teachers. The exam boards should limit the amount of coursework set for any one subject, and the unions should insist that it is externally marked.
My core hours are 40 per week. I work closer to 55. I do not get paid the extra 15. I am a professional, my clients expect the extra and I am happy to give it. If teachers showed the same levels of professionalism then they would not be talking about striking.
I live opposite to one of my old schools. The only week that there isn't a car parked in the car park is during the Christmas/New Year week. There are so many red tape meetings it isn't true.
I thought it was primary school children who were supposed to be childish and kick up a fuss if they didn't get their own way not their teachers.
I beg ministers to treat these teachers with the same disrespect that teachers treat children when they act like this in class and not give in to them.
I recently returned to primary teaching. I was amazed at the workload. She was at school by 8.00 am, finishing at 4.00 pm, assuming there wasn't a staff meeting which could go on until 6.00 pm. She would then bring home marking and lesson preparation work. Teachers are undervalued and parents must give more support,
Ask the families of teachers whether these myths about a 9.00-15.30 day and uninterrupted long holidays are actually borne out in reality! My father had a long career as a teacher and was typical in that he worked damned hard year after year in a job where he excelled and where his skills and knowledge doubtless proved invaluable to those that he taught.
Too many members of society don't seem to value teachers, many of whom could earn far more elsewhere for less hassle if that was their sole motivation.
Alastair Robertson, Scotland
It's not that long since I left school and I remember my A-level German teacher and his organisation of his workload. He said that if all teachers started at 9.00 am and worked through till 6.00 pm (yes, that means during those dearly loved 'free periods') and took just an hour for lunch, and worked like this for 48 weeks a year (as is the case with most jobs) it was certainly possible to fit in all the preparation and marking and anyone who couldn't was a bad teacher. It's all about organisation.
There is a comprehensive school opposite my house and last month when I took one of my 20 days holiday entitlement I happened to look out of the window at 5.00 pm to find the place in total darkness and the gates locked (and it was a school day - not another holiday). My sister is a secondary school teacher and once called me at home to thank me for a birthday gift and was greeted by the answering machine - at 6.20 pm. She later called back wondering what had kept me at work so late and was shocked when I told her our office doesn't close until 7.30 pm. She said she is never home later than 4.00 pm but then complains about how much she has to do in her 'free time'. I recommended she stayed at school as long as we stay at our office and then see how much she has to do in her so-called free time.
I am a retired German teacher of English and French. In 1998 an official but independent survey on yearly work hours for teachers stated for secondary modern schools an average of 1900 hours with a minimum of 930 hours for some and 2443 hours for others, depending on the subjects they taught. The consequence is that many Germans among them chancellor G. Schroeder sometimes speak of German teachers as "faule Saecke" lazy sacks, on the other hand a lot of teachers complain that many other civil servants do not work half as much as they do. I liked my profession very much, but when in 1991 at the age of 63 I could retire without losing part of my pension I retired without thinking twice.
I retired last summer but as a science teacher I regularly worked 65 hours a week as well as completing an OU degree to update my knowledge and skill. I wasn't the only one either. I spent time during my holidays in school catching up on marking, planning ahead, taking extra classes or running field trips. The student teachers who spent time with us were shocked at the time we spent and the responsibilities we faced in teaching. They frequently saw exhausted teachers at the end of their tethers physically and mentally. The breaks at our holidays just about enabled us to cope.
I think that taking some of the multitude of simple, time-consuming clerical tasks off teachers and allowing them to put their physical emotional and mental resources into teaching would allow teachers to put a more reasonable number of hours in a week. However, it can't be written into contracts as each subject varies in the time commitment it requires. Yes it galled me considerably to see colleagues leaving school on the bell and having the time to sit in the staff room chatting. But then there are always going to be some people who work harder than others. I now have the time to have a real life again.
Tom Adlam, Zimbabwe
What is needed is not a limit on teachers' working hours but a way to make the profession more attractive to others. The lack of discipline in school deters potential teachers from wanting to go into teaching.
Teachers get more training, support and benefits than any other profession in local government
For those (like the "Anonymous", who claim that teachers "don't work long enough and should not complain", I have only one thing to say: I dare you to come to a school and work, there, as teachers, yourselves! I doubt it very much that any of you can handle... half a day's psychological pressure! The people who usually say such superficial things are often ...incompetent parents, who have no idea of teaching/raising their kids properly! Have these people thought that this also one more reason why, we, teachers need to work so many
hours, or can not "assess the job?"
It is so... "noble" when people deny personal responsibility for social problems they are ultimately involved with!
When will some parents ever... grow up?
Phil Hall, UK
Over the years a combination of petty-minded governments and left wing Union officials have reduced the once respected teacher to a simple hourly wage slave. From the Unions we hear of 50+ hour weeks, from the doubters we are reminded of long holidays, it is so very difficult to make out the truth. I do know that I worked a basic 40-hour week, with 4 weeks holiday a year, that is 1920 hours a year. Perhaps if we had figures for teachers working year we could make a reasoned judgement. Likewise figures for the hours worked by many self employed, by middle managers and Company Directors might be enlightening.
What is obvious to me as an outsider is that there is something rotten in the whole school system, with an inability to recruit and retain good quality staff, coupled with an organisation that seems to put statistics above real performance.
Here is the same problem. I think that it has also to do with the subjects, which are more complicated, and the children aren't easier these days. They bring a lot of problems from home, and we'll have often to cope with it. However, the salaries are good, and one week is much busier than the other!
Teachers have a lot of work to do - but they also get summer holidays!
Jaroslav Vavra, Czech Rep
Teachers in New Zealand are having the same problem with work overload. It has taken much of the joy out of teaching. Most of the extra hours are the result of poorly thought out policies which require teachers to create pages of justification and assessment for what they are going to or have taught. Most of this is filed away and nobody looks at it. We have to have it "just in case" the Educational Review Office asks to look at it. A complete waste of time! Teachers are neglecting their core business because they are so exhausted and their imaginations are frozen by overload.
Sounds as if we are not alone.
So on top of their quarter of the year off, teacher's unions are now demanding a 35-hour working week? That kind of attitude appals me. I work in a school, but in IT, not as a teacher. I work 9-5, 5 days a week, plus Saturday mornings, with 20 days holiday a year.
Yes, dear, long-suffering, hard-working teachers, you can have your 35 hours a week - but only if you have the same amount of time off as me. Otherwise, you're being revealed for the idle scroungers that most of you really are.
I work in a Norfolk school as a craft and design technician. My mother and step father are both teachers, my mother at a primary school and my step dad at the same high school as myself. I get really annoyed about teachers asking for more money. Some may deserve it but a lot of them do not. I earn 13,500 pounds which is about half the amount teachers earn but I do far more. Primary schools are different to high schools. In our high school I never see a teacher after 3.30pm but I have to work until 4,30 -5 pm. Also, during the school holidays I have to work while the teachers have the holidays off. Admittedly there is marking and lesson preparation to be done by the teachers, but I as a school technician also have to teach on occasion which I am happy to do but on my wage I have to do my job and a teachers job. 13,500 isn't enough for one skill but technicians are required to have 30-40 skills to support the school system which include metalworking, woodworking, foundry work, engineering machinery maintenance, plastics knowledge, measuring equipment knowledge, computer skills - the list goes on and on and includes teaching which is one of the easy ones. We are the neglected part of the system and deserve some redress.
Peter Walker (Not a teacher), High Wycombe, England
Missing the point completely here.... Number of hours is not the issue. It is the contact time that is the tiring part of the job. Bring in performance related pay. Pay the poor ones less, the good ones much more. Get rid of the poor ones. Give Teachers career breaks and constantly re-asses their performance.
Teaching is a job like any other, with its good points and its bad points. If you don't like the overall conditions then leave. It really is as simple as that. It may not be too easy to find another job, but that is the chance you take. Don't whine about things and expect others to solve your problems.
I would like to ask the Teachers who are backing the strike action for more pay and fewer working hours to wake up and look at professions outside the closeted teaching profession. Teachers claim to have to work in excess of 50 hours per week, so how is that any different from what the majority of non-teaching professions have to do anyway?
They say that their profession is stressful - welcome to the real world.
Taking into account the fact that teachers also get good holidays and reasonable wages pro rata I wonder if they have got ideas above their station?
It would also seem that now the dead wood is being removed from the teaching ranks, and that teachers are now being held accountable for their performance, the level of whining is growing. And the NUT's who are backing the strike action seem to be made up of the people who are whining loudest.
Do we work long hours?
No, not in comparison to other jobs.
Are we adequately paid for those hours and the difficulty of the job?
Probably not compared to people I know in other professions but, we can't expect much more in our salary. Where would the money come from?
So what's the problem?
I've worked in industry and as a teacher. The intensity of the work when children are in school is such that very little is left in the tank at the end of the day. You can't relax for a few minutes, especially with a demanding class.
All those who work long hours outside teaching; try working with such intensity. I don't believe there are that many jobs which maintain the pressure for the length of time teachers have to manage for the level of pay we get.
A working hour cannot be the standard to estimate how much the workload is. Many teachers feel exhausted because of the pressure from the job. People who teachers face are not adults and teachers cannot use the ways in dealing with adults to get along with students. However, teachers have to treat them like an adult because students like! Such two extreme sides really make teachers exhausted.
Second, a lot of teachers do not have the feeling of achievement. So, why do they devout so much time in schools? Why not spend more time to look after their own children?
Third, many people only see the position 'teacher' as a 'job', not a 'career'. Maybe it is a reason that makes some people hope to limit the working hours.
I know several teachers, and those who get their act together, working 8:30 to 4:30 each day and a few extra days in each of there 13 weeks of holiday have a fine old time. Even if 50 hours a week was true, which I doubt as the average secondary teacher only teaches about 18 hours a week (32 single lessons), they still start on 17,000 pounds outside of London, can have a gift of 6,000 pounds and their student loans written off. All in all not a bad life. I also don't recall the last mass redundancies in teaching.
You have to be joking!
I learned more from watching TV then I did with my old teacher. I think teachers have fun picking on their publics as my teacher just bullied me and I didn't even open my mouth!
I, unlike the majority of British politicians do have a high regard for teachers, and rather than cut their hours I suggest we cut out the bureaucratic paper shuffling they are required to complete for the various "education initiatives". That in its self would free eight hours per week. If they do feel they need to take action I suggest they simply insist on the police being called every time they are assaulted. I think the politicians would have to finally listen to them with a 30,000 children clogging the whole legal system and with a gigantic mountain of paper tied with pink ribbon to clog it up. If that fails they simply should refuse to return after the next Christmas break. Don't worry about the parents sympathy they only want you as baby minders while they go to work.
Whatever the public may think of teachers pay and conditions, they are clearly not good enough to retain enough people on the job! The profession has to attract more talented teachers to the job and that will require more money (possibly, but definitely in tough schools and expensive areas) and better conditions of work. Yes, we have holidays, but we really do work for quite a percentage of those weeks and really are putting in at least 50 hours a week during term time - that is quite a lot on what we earn.
It's not that teachers work too many hours in a year, just that it either 50+hours a week or total collapse in the "Holiday". I'd certainly much prefer less hours per week for more weeks a year.
The problem is if you arrive at the school gates when the school day ends at least half the teaching staff will be driving out of the gates. If teachers were forced to do all their non teaching work (marking, filling in forms, preparation etc.) in school (ie work 37.5 hours a week in the office) both during term time and during children vacation (except for 5 weeks holiday entitlement a year - still more than most) the general public would see how much work teachers actually do - well the good ones anyway. And the bad ones would be found out and forced to earn the salary they get.
They should be paid an overtime allowance or given time off in school time to replace their lost hours. Isn't that how it works in other positions, including politicians?
I have a friend in Tennessee who used to teach. She told me that in USA teachers are treated with contempt and in some states are so poorly paid that they qualify for national assistance. For several years in my past I worked an average 45 hour week all year for pay that was barely equal to the starting salary of a teacher presently. Teachers get far more holiday than most other people; I have never had more than 4 weeks a year and have had 3 weeks a year. All in all teachers get a very good deal and should realise it. Problems there may be and solutions to classroom violence and excessive bureaucracy should be sought but teachers in Britain are doing a lot better than many other groups and certainly better than teachers in other countries.
My mother was a head teacher of a country school, my sister has a highly responsible and managerial position of a college in the North of England. I still remember my mother being at the school to make sure the food for lunches is delivered, ensuring other supplies arrive before the term starts. Many may not thing that teachers work hard, the work does not stop at the end of the school day or term. The responsibilities for planning class work, marking tests etc continues far past an eight hour day. Any dedicated teacher spends more than eight hours devoted to the classroom and their students. The pay is far less than deserved and hours should be reduced, but as in any position the dedication goes past eight hours.
Fact: Every year, without fail, 'A' level and GCSE results in England improve.
If there is no deterioration in standards, what are we worrying about?
This is surely what we send our children to school for. The fact that so many teachers leave the profession moaning about stress and underpayment is a red herring. The teachers left are the ones who produce the results. So, I say, if you don't like the deal, get another job and leave the teaching to "those who can".
I have a degree of sympathy with teachers. They certainly have a right to work free from violent assaults. They should also be able to command some degree of respect from those they are teaching.
If we could get this sorted out, they might feel a bit better about their workload. However, when there is no discipline in the home, there is unlikely to be decent behaviour at school, but that is a different debate.
How ironic; teachers complaining about excessive working hours whilst in the middle of a two week Easter break.
Having spent five and a half years at university studying for an Honours Degree in German and French and the diploma in Education to become a teacher, I have finally decided against it and am seeking another job - anything - as I would rather do anything than teaching having undertaken countless teaching practices. I would like to stress that graduates in Scotland do not receive the £6k 'golden Hellos' or get our student loans paid off (averaging around £10k). In Scotland Modern Language teachers must fulfil residence requirements in the countries where the languages are spoken. Now I find out the requirements have changed and I cannot become a permanent teacher until I make up another 3 months in a German-speaking country (having already spent 2 months in German, 5 months in Austria and 4 months in France). If I want to become a teacher I'll need to return abroad - but after 5 and a half years of studying and constant debts I just want to get settled. As for a 'safe' profession - well, what happens when subjects are no longer compulsory and they need fewer teachers?
Then there's the weekend. While no exams are on, my wife will never work Saturdays. But Sundays she will work for around 7 hours. This makes a total of around 60 hours a week. This doesn't take into account the times when there is parents evening - being at school until 10:30 sometimes. During exam times, she has been known to work another 10 hours on the Saturday as well.
As you can see, I see very little of her. Her only saving grace is extended holidays. During Easter and Christmas breaks, she does have a lot of time off, but still a lot of her time is actually working. It isn't fair to say that teachers "have 12 weeks of holiday a year - get out the violins", because they DO need it, and they aren't exactly doing nothing during those holiday times anyway. Give them a break - they work very hard and have no respect.
My wife is a teacher, and she regularly spends long hours at home marking books, writing lesson plans, and sorting out Individual Education Plans for the less able pupils. Most of this work is done from 6pm to 10pm in the evenings. There is a huge amount of administration that has to be done and this prevents teachers from focussing on the main point of the job, to prepare our young people to take an active role in society. Having a set working week will not remove the problem, it would just mean that less marking etc would get done. There is a need to lift the administrative burden placed on teachers, which can only come from a rethink of the education system by the Government, along with appropriate levels of funding.
Reading through some of the comments has been quite upsetting. Unlike most teachers, I came into teaching after working in industry and the NHS for a few years (my degree was in IT) and I have to say I work a lot longer hours now. I can't speak for all schools, but I think primary tends to get lumped into secondary - in primary we have a full day - we do not have the spare hours for planning it has to be completed in our own time. The majority of teachers at my school are in by 7.45am and have to be shooed out by the caretaker at 5.30pm, dragging books, planning, etc with us.
The lunch hour is never an hour and often have to work through the morning (15 min) break. Holidays? Yes I agree there are a few but believe me it is needed. Over the Easter break I managed to go away for the weekend and the rest of the time has been spent working. Our school has a lot of emphasis on displays, school productions, etc - activities which take time and are not part of the curriculum. But don't get me wrong, I am not whinging - I decided to come into teaching and I accept there is a lot of work, and I believe if I went to another school the hours would most likely be shorter, but it is the attitude and lack of respect found in the comments above which are harder to cope with.
As with all professions and companies there are the dead wood and those not pulling their weight but I urge you not to group us all with those who do only work the minimum hours and have the loudest voices. There are teachers who are in the profession because they want to be, they enjoy the job and would just like to be left to get on with it! I sometimes ask myself is it worth the lack of respect, long hours and having to defend myself to non-teachers, but seeing my class of 7 and 8 year olds and the respect I get from them and the answer is YES!
I was shocked when Dad told me recently that he now spends more time dealing with complaints from neighbours of the school and the police than he does in the classroom - how is that a just reward for nearly 30 years of dedicated service?
On top of this teachers are a scapegoat for all our children's problems as many parents seem to think that the traditional job of a parent: discipline, manners and respect (even toilet training in one extreme case my mother experienced) are now a task for teachers.
I'm not surprised this country is going down the pan when the people burdened with moulding the next generation into good citizens are treated with as much contempt as I've seen on this board.
My mother is a teacher, and in answer to Steve ("Perhaps if fewer teachers went from full time education into teaching they'd be capable of taking a more realistic and objective view of their workload"), she went into teaching relatively late, after various other jobs, and teaching is easily the toughest of the lot. In addition to the time spent teaching, she has to prepare lessons as well as dealing with the bureaucratic junk which has nothing to do with education. On top of this she has to lose various evenings for school functions such as parents' evenings. Perhaps if Steve and those like him tried teaching, or at least observing teachers, he'd be capable of taking a more realistic and objective view of their workload.
Each person's view of teaching is coloured by his or her experience. Everyone has attended school and therefore has a view to give. I had a terrible experience of the secondary school education - but I put this down to individual teachers who were not dedicated to the job - not the whole teaching profession. I am now a Deputy Head of a Primary School. As with all Heads and Deputies - there is no limit stated, in my job description, on the hours to be worked. I do my best for the children and I know they appreciate it. Job satisfaction is worth a lot but when I see other less dedicated or hardworking people being paid more - it tests one's tolerance. I can only defend the teaching in my classroom - not the whole teaching profession.
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