New term, new fiasco...

Last week a new workload agreement came into force, relieving teachers of a host of time-consuming administrative tasks. Or at least, that was the theory. Nicholas Pyke finds that few schools are implementing the deal
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The Independent Online

It has been hailed as the magic bullet, the deal that will slay the beast of bureaucracy and put an end to years of complaints from teachers that their work is choked by endless administration. The first stage of the three-year workload agreement was introduced last week, with the start of new school year.

It has been hailed as the magic bullet, the deal that will slay the beast of bureaucracy and put an end to years of complaints from teachers that their work is choked by endless administration. The first stage of the three-year workload agreement was introduced last week, with the start of new school year.

But already it looks to be unravelling, with hundreds of schools claiming they cannot afford to employ the extra staff they need to make it work. Classroom unions have threatened industrial action unless head teachers stick to the new contractual limits imposed by the deal, but, with schools gripped in financial crisis, thousands of teachers have found themselves agreeing to do just as much cutting, pasting, typing and photocopying as ever before.

The damp-squib start has provoked a furious reaction from the local education authorities. Graham Lane, chairman of education for the Local Government Association, accused some heads of trying to "sabotage" the agreement and warned that unions and local-authority officials would be visiting individual schools to persuade teachers to stick to their contracts.

"We pay our teachers to teach, not to do administration. As employers, we'll be getting on to them. This has nothing to do with finance," he said. "That's an excuse not to implement the agreement. There are some people who would rather see the agreement fail for reasons I don't understand."

Like most head teachers, Chris Meadows says he is right behind the idea of giving his staff more time to teach. But his school, Stafford Leys Primary School, just outside Leicester, is one of those where a fresh start has brought no change at all. In theory, its 18 teachers are now free from an impressive list of 25 tasks which include taking the register, collecting dinner money, and sticking art work on the walls. In practice, the agreement has simply been ignored because the shortage of money has left the school with no room for manoeuvre. The constraints are visible in the fabric of the building, which has gone without decoration for several years now. More seriously, the 485-pupil school is still expanding, yet has been unable to hire more classroom assistants to keep pace.

So, last year, his teachers were given the choice: they could implement the workload agreement, but only at the cost of leaving two teaching posts vacant - which would mean bigger classes all round. As their key stage two classrooms are already bursting at the seams with as many as 38 pupils, they chose to wait for better times.

"You end up pushing the problem from one group of people to another," says the head. "Someone's got to do the work within the constraints of the budget and the staff we already employ." He reckons the agreement can only be made practical if each of his teachers has an assistant of their own. "That would be ideal. That way, a positive relationship can build up. At the moment they may spend a morning in key stage one then an afternoon in key stage two." But at the moment, the school has only eight who have to chop and change their work between 18 separate classes. In other words, there is a shortfall of around £70,000 before the deal can be implemented.

He agrees with Graham Lane and the unions that the deal is important, and says that as a head teacher he is constantly trying to promote a better work-life balance. "If a teacher is permanently tired they don't do as well in the classroom. If you're up late at night marking, it has a detrimental effect the following day. Very often I go round at five or six o'clock and find 10 of my staff still working, and push them out of the door." Without a surprise injection of funds in the next few weeks, this is likely to continue. Next year, as the deal rolls out, his teachers will have the right to 10 per cent free time for preparation and marking, and the following year they will be protected by a 38-hour limit on the time spent covering for absent colleagues. But that seems a long way off right now.

Not all teachers want to be relieved of all administrative jobs, of course - another reason why some may have voted to keep things as they are. Key stage one teachers Ros Tilston and Janet James rather like taking the register, for example and would rather not have someone else interfering with their classroom art work - a point of concern raised by the National Union of Teachers, the only union not to have endorsed the agreement. Ros and Janet have found that explaining detailed administrative tasks to an assistant can take so long they are better off, say, assembling the musical instruments or cutting out paper shapes themselves. Even with a full-time assistant they would prefer to file their own records. The task they really want help with, they say, is the endless peeling of tangerines and bananas which have arrived, thanks to the Government's fresh-fruit-in-primary-schools initiative.

Stafford Leys lies close to the M1 at Leicester Forest East, just within the Leicestershire Local Education Authority. It is not the best place to be right now because the county has been very badly hit by the funding crisis. Leicestershire put an additional £9.5m into its education budget on top of the Government's recommended amount (the Standard Spending Assessment), yet it is languishing at the bottom of the schools-funding list.

In Nuneaton, Bill Glasper finds himself in the same position as his fellow Leicestershire head Chris Meadows. Mr Glasper, who runs Barlestone Church of England Primary School has made what minor changes he can to his staff workload. But broadly speaking, he says, they are carrying on as normal. "There's no way forward without extra money to do this, because everyone is already gainfully employed."

The NASUWT union, which has lobbied hard for the agreement, warns that defaulting schools face industrial action. But in practice, teachers may well prefer to help their heads out, as at Stafford Leys, rather than deprive the children of books or see class sizes grow. This, certainly, is what has happened in Scotland, which introduced a maximum 35-hour week two years ago.

A minority of Leicestershire primary schools are known to be sticking to the English deal in full. One of them may soon have to stop because of budget problems. At Queniborough Primary School near Leicester, Chris Davis took the radical step of starting the agreement a year early, a move the staff appreciated. But now he is £57,000 over budget and the county council has objected. "It's likely that the number of support staff the school employs will have to be reduced, and that may well have an effect on our ability to implement the agreement," he said.

"I'd be verysurprised if, in Leicestershire, many schools could afford to implement it correctly," said Mr Davis, who is also chair of the National Primary Headteachers Association. "My perception is that the majority of schools are finding it difficult. We're hoping that David Miliband comes up with a rescue package for Leicestershire in April."

The problem is not confined to the one county, nor to primary schools. Head-teacher associations are warning that hundreds of schools are affected around the country. A recent survey by The Independent has suggested that the scale of the financial shortfall in the education system means that more than 1,000 teaching posts have disappeared over the past few months.

"There's no doubt about it, there is a significant number of heads who are going to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to implement the agreement from day one," said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"It will take them some time to implement the central changes as they simply haven't got the staff on the ground. There will be a number of schools where the staff will be prepared to work on as they have been doing for umpteen years - provided they are assured that as soon as the schools have the money, the agreement will be implemented." Mr Hart said that hundreds of schools are affected, and that the situation will only be eased if the Government's financial-rescue package, promised later this year, is big enough to make a difference. "If it doesn't do the trick, then we're in deep trouble," he warned.

According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association: "It's the worst combination of circumstances - to introduce a new measure which requires considerable funding at the same time as the biggest funding crisis for many years. Schools in financial difficulty, particularly those with a history of poor funding, are struggling to implement the agreement. These are contractual changes and the school has no option. But there will be some give-and-take."


The new workload plan relieves teachers from a range of administrative duties including:

* Taking the register

* Collecting dinner money

* Investigating a pupil's absence

* Doing bulk photocopying

* Typing or making word-processed versions of manuscript material

* Writing and distributing bulk communications

* Filing records

* Preparing, setting up or taking down classroom displays

* Analysing attendance and examination figures

* Looking after people on work experience

* Invigilating public exams

* Maintaining ICT equipment or software

* Ordering school supplies or equipment

* Cataloguing or stocktaking

* Taking notes at meetings

* Submitting bids for funding