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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Study into how teachers work
teacher doing paperwork
Some teachers put in longer hours than others
All sides in the row over teachers' workload in England and Wales have agreed that a firm of consultants will carry out a study of what teachers do.

This should mean a package of practical action - not simply broad statements and brave sentiments

David Blunkett
The study will be considered by a steering group involving representatives of the unions, the Department for Education and the local authority employers, who met for two hours of talks on Tuesday evening.

That group will present a report on cutting teachers' workload to the review body which advises ministers annually on teachers' pay and conditions.

It was like getting blood out of a stone

Nigel de Gruchy
One of the union leaders involved said that, when pressed during the talks, the education secretary had said he was not ruling out any changes to teachers' contracts and not ruling them in.

But it had been "like getting blood out of a stone," said Nigel de Gruchy of the NASUWT classroom union.

"I had to get a bit agitated."

His NUT counterpart, Doug McAvoy, was more upbeat.

"I think there's a breakthrough tonight, a real attempt on the part of government, employers and teachers to address the real problems - it's a very good night for the teaching profession," he said.

Contractual changes

The education department said it had been a "positive" meeting.

But a spokesman made it clear the government did not expect teachers' contracts to be reconsidered during the review.

"Our view is that contractual changes would have to be looked at at the end of the process not at the beginning," he said.

The reason the unions are so keen to get teachers' contracts changed is that the working hours in England and Wales are, in effect, open-ended.

Teachers are required to work under the direction of their head teacher for 1,265 hours a year, for a minimum of 195 days.

But another clause says they must carry out "such other duties as are necessary for the performance of their professional responsibilities".

'Red herring'

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, and School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, stayed in the meeting for more than an hour - twice as long as they had intended being there before handing over to their officials.

They have repeatedly ruled out setting a maximum limit on teachers' working weeks - whereas the unions are determined to pursue the model adopted in Scotland of a 35-hour week.

The main teachers' unions have threatened industrial action in pursuit of that if the inquiry into teachers' workload is not sufficiently wide.

In a speech earlier on Tuesday Mr Blunkett again said that "prescribed maximum teaching hours are clearly a red herring".

In a statement issued after the talks he said: "We have a common goal with heads and teachers to make a real and practical impact on reducing teacher workloads where these are excessive."

School observations

The workload study - by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers - "should mean a package of practical action - not simply broad statements and brave sentiments".

He argues that the way forward is to see how some schools manage their staff time better than others - perhaps through the use of classroom and administrative assistants - then spread that best practice.

The study will involve observing working practices in at least 70 schools this term and next.

It is to look in detail at how working practices differ between schools, what role support staff play and ways of reducing needless administration and meetings.

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See also:

13 Apr 01 | Education
Teachers' workload to be reviewed
18 Apr 01 | Education
Unions unite over 35-hour week
16 Apr 01 | Education
Lib Dems back 35-hour teachers' week
09 Apr 01 | Education
Overworked? A teacher's story
16 Jun 00 | Education
What makes the ideal teacher
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