|You are in: UK: Education: Mike Baker|
Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Teachers: Stressed or stroppy?
"Teachers are just a bunch of moaners and whingers."
"Nine to five and long holidays."
"They should try a real job."
But I'm afraid these comments are the reality of what many, possibly most, other working people think of teachers' complaints about workload.
Before you rush to condemn me, let me stress these are not my views.
But I have rarely covered a news story on which there is such a divergence of strongly-expressed views.
On the day the School Teachers Review Body recommended reducing teachers hours to an average of 45 a week during term-time, BBC News Online hosted a forum for your views.
The response was huge but divided neatly into two, mutually hostile camps.
Effect on pupils
Teachers and their spouses were furious that anyone should even question their "long holidays" while other workers vented equally impatient frustration with the teachers' failure to recognise that other people worked evenings and weekends too, but without the benefit of 12 weeks a year holiday.
Oddly, what struck me most about both camps was that neither seemed to talk about the effect on the children.
We can argue all day about the relative stresses, and rewards, of different jobs but we should also be asking whether teachers are so over-worked during term-times that teaching and learning are suffering?
I'll come back to that question later because first I want to give you a flavour of the responses received by BBC News Online's forum.
Holidays in the sun?
Let's take the teachers first. The greatest sensitivity was over the accusation that they have long holidays.
In common with many others, he objected to the way others overlooked how much marking and preparation teachers do in the evenings, weekends and holidays.
The husband of a teacher demanded we should not "read out letters from the ill-informed".
He said his wife did marking from 1900 until 2200 and her summer holidays amounted to just 3 weeks by the time she had done all her work.
A secondary school teacher wrote to say she worked "around 60 hours a week" in term-time plus at least 3 days a week of each holiday so was "fed up" of people saying that teachers get a cushy time.
The greatest fury was aroused by reports which claimed that averaging out teachers hours over the year meant they were working about the same amount as others in professional or managerial jobs.
I'm afraid, though, that this is precisely what the figures show - and that includes taking account of the hours teachers estimate they work during the holidays.
The following figures are from the Office of Manpower Economics and are based on teachers' workload diary surveys.
They show that, during term-time, primary school teachers work an average of 52.8 hours a week. Secondary school teachers work 51.3 hours.
These figures include time working at home in the evenings and weekends.
The consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), collected further information on the hours worked by teachers during the holidays.
These showed that the average classroom teacher worked an additional 113 hours during school holidays. That is equivalent to 14 extra 8-hour days, or almost three working weeks.
PwC calculated that teachers' total annual hours (including holiday working) amounted to 2,114 hours.
Over a 47 week year (allowing 5 weeks holiday with no work at all) this would be a weekly average of just under 45 hours.
By comparison, data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, on average, managers in other jobs work an annual total of 2,222 hours and professionals 2,112 hours.
There was no data available for the hours managers and professionals worked during their holidays so - in a comparison that clearly favours teachers - it was assumed they did none.
In short, if working hours are averaged over 47 weeks a year, they come out like this: Teachers and other professionals 45 hours, managers 47.3 hours.
Just to repeat, that assumes the non-teachers do no work at all during their holidays.
This perhaps explains why the other set of responses to BBC News Online's forum were so heated about "moaning teachers".
Let me give you a taste. A Lt Commander in the Royal Navy wrote: "Ten hours a day is nothing to the hours that our servicemen and women have to work seven days a week - let teachers count their blessings."
A supervisor in manufacturing industry said he had to smile when he heard teachers complaining.
He worked up to 80 hours a week on all sorts of shifts including nights and often worked on bank holidays and during his allocated 25 days off a year.
He never earned over £20,000 despite supervising as many as 60 operators and, at 47, had recently been made redundant and had been unable to get another job.
The annoyance with teachers even spread to non-teaching staff in schools.
A school administrator said her official hours were from 0800 until 1600 but in reality she does not go home before 1800 or 1900 and "does not stop for a morning break and works through lunch in order to get the work done".
She gets 29 days holiday a year.
This school administrator reckoned the school caretaker had an even tougher time with emergency call-outs at all hours, weekend working for school lettings, and shifts which involve starting at 0600 and ending at 2130.
By contrast, according to this school administrator, teachers at her school finish teaching at 1500, usually go home at 1600, have an undisturbed hour for lunch and 12 weeks holiday.
Change the school year
Now, I am not sufficiently suicidal to mediate between these two conflicting views of teachers' working hours.
However, I think some important points are being missed.
The issue of total annual hours is in many ways a distraction.
A class with a tired or stressed teacher is not going to be in an optimum learning environment. And, that after all, is what schools are supposed to be.
There seems to be one obvious solution - change the school year so the teachers' burden is spread more evenly.
If schools were open for, say, an extra seven weeks a year but with a shorter day for pupils (in other words no increase in the annual taught hours) then the average term-time working week could be reduced from 52 hours to around 44 hours a week.
Even the introduction of a six-term year - with no addition to the total number of school days - would allow the burden to be spread more evenly across the year, with two week breaks to allow more time than the current short half-terms for teacher recuperation.
Pupils would benefit too.
Half day on Wednesday
Another idea, already being tried by one school, is to have no lessons at all on Wednesday afternoons.
Instead pupils are kept occupied by non-teachers, sports coaches or others, in a range of clubs and sporting activities.
This gives teachers an afternoon a week during school hours to get on top of their administration, marking and preparation.
To maintain the total amount of taught time for pupils this would require teachers giving up some of their holiday entitlement.
But if, as they say, they are already working much of their holidays it is hard to see the objection to that.
I know the usual complaint is that the stress of term-time is so great that teachers need the holidays to recover.
But how about reducing the stress in the first place by evening out the workload?
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