Excessive workload blighting teachers’ lives

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Strking teachers in Norwich assemble before going on a demonstration
Strking teachers in Norwich assemble before going on a demonstration

EXCESSIVE workload is blighting teachers’ professional lives, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, has told the Union’s Cymru Annual Conference.

The assertion comes as 87% of teachers in Wales cited workload as their top concern in the NASUWT Cymru 2016 Big Survey 2016. Keates told the Conference, which was held on 12 & 13 November at the St George’s Hotel in Llandudno, that the pressures on the teaching profession are such that over half of teachers across Wales say the job has adversely affected their mental and physical health.

The same survey revealed that 72% of Welsh teachers have considered leaving the profession in the last year. This figure has risen by 27% since 2011. Keates said: ‘Health and careers are being devastated, family and personal lives are being broken, while politicians preside over a culture in our schools of command and control, where anything goes and any adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of teachers is simply regarded as collateral damage.

‘There will be no sustainable change until the Welsh government and employers decide to value teachers and protect them from abuse. Teachers want more than warm words from the Cabinet Secretary, they want action over their concerns. High quality education for all children and young people cannot be sustained by teachers whose physical and mental health is being damaged.’

Representatives at the Annual Conference condemned the unnecessary job insecurity and job loss facing some teachers in local authorities which are reorganising schools and reconciling school places. Delegates heard how many schools are using the opportunities provided by the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools and Education Capital Programme to reorganise, and subsequently cut teacher numbers.

Keates said: ‘While the 21st Century Schools and Education Capital Programme are welcomed by the NASUWT, it is unacceptable that many schools are using this as an opportunity to make redundancies. This not only impacts on the livelihoods of those who have lost their jobs, but creates a culture of fear over job insecurity. The Welsh Government owes a duty of care to the teachers of Wales and it must legislate, if necessary, to ensure that a system of redeployment rather than redundancy is restored.’

Jane Setchfield, NASUWT National Executive Member, who moved the motion, said: ‘Such a programme is long overdue and our pupils deserve the best, well-resourced state of the art modern buildings and facilities. But I want to challenge the myth that new buildings and changing the name of a school will inevitably raise standards.

‘Teachers and other members of the education workforce are the key to raising standards. The NASUWT will not accept that our members’ livelihoods are simply seen as collateral damage in the pursuit of educational excellence.’

Motion 13. Organisation of School Places, from Cardiff branch said: ‘Conference calls upon the National Executive to continue to support members in schools undergoing reorganisation with industrial action, up to and including strike action, where jobs are threatened.’

Wales’ Cabinet Secretary for Education’s commitment on Early Years class sizes will only be of real value if it is accompanied at the same time by statutory Foundation Phase adult-pupil ratios, the Annual Conference of NASUWT Cymru, also heard.

The assertion came during a motion that was debated at Sunday’s conference in Llandudno, which raised concerns over the lack of statutory basis for the adult-pupil ratios in Foundation phase. The NASUWT is calling for the adult-pupil ratio of 1:8 in Pre-Reception and Reception, and 1:15 in Years 1 and 2 to be made statutory.

Keates said: ‘The NASUWT welcomes the commitment from the Welsh government to a statutory teacher-pupil ratio in Early Years classes. However, we believe this does not go far enough in assisting schools to give pupils the best possible start to their education. The Welsh government also needs to make the adult-pupil ratios in Foundation Phase statutory to ensure that early years education is appropriately resourced.’

Rex Phillips, NASUWT National Official Wales, said: ‘The Foundation Phase has been a flagship policy of successive Welsh governments and it is to the credit of the Cabinet Secretary for Education that she has placed a statutory limit on class size. However, it has long been recognised that as well as a class teacher the intensity of the work requires support staff at adult-pupil ratios of 1 to 8 in pre-reception and 1 to 15 in years 1 and 2.

‘The Cabinet Secretary for Education must ensure that these ratios are made statutory, otherwise the fear is that schools may be tempted to reduce the number of support staff to accommodate the statutory class size limit which could have a detrimental effect on pupil progress.’

Teachers at the conference complained that the constant demands being placed upon schools is having a detrimental impact upon the health and wellbeing of teachers, and is lowering the morale of the profession. The concerns shared at the Conference echo findings from the NASUWT Cymru’s annual Big Question survey, in which nearly 9 out of 10 teachers said they had experienced more workplace stress in the last 12 months.

Jane Setchfield, NASUWT National Executive Member, who proposed the motion said: ‘Teachers across all sectors now work an average of 60 hours per week, which represents an 18% rise in working hours since 2010.

‘The effects of excessive workload often manifest themselves as stress. Chronic excessive stress has been shown many times to be extremely detrimental to health and wellbeing and can lead to mental health conditions. It is clear that a stressed teacher cannot perform to their full capacity.’

Teachers at the Conference called for Wales education inspectorate Estyn to include the inspection of work/life balance and workload in their framework, with Setchfield concluding: ‘That’s the way to tackle this issue – once Estyn decree something must be done, it will get done.’

• A new King’s College London report, commissioned by the NUT, uncovers serious problems with the EBacc, the government’s attempt to steer all schools towards a narrow range of subjects. This new report A curriculum for all? The effects of recent Key Stage 4 curriculum, assessment and accountability reforms on English secondary education, drew on the insights and experiences of 1,800 teachers plus in-depth case studies using a range of schools.

The report shows the impact of government policy on the experiences of pupils and teachers in Key Stage 4, the legal term for the two years of school education which incorporate GCSEs, and other exams, in maintained schools in England normally known as Year 10 and Year 11, when pupils are aged between 14 and 16.

Findings show teachers have serious concerns that the EBacc is dramatically narrowing the curriculum; that the excessive pressure of exams is taking its toll on young people’s well-being and mental health; and that teachers lack confidence in ‘Progress 8’, the Government’s latest attempt to measure students’ progress and hold schools accountable for it.

Key findings include:

• 84% of teachers worry that the reforms entrench an exam culture which undermines students’ mental health and wellbeing.

• 74 % identify that the EBacc has narrowed the Key Stage 4 curriculum offer in their schools.

• 77% believe the new GCSE curriculum will be less suitable for low attaining students and is criticised by respondents for being uninspiring and anachronistic.

• 93% identify that Key Stage 2 SATs results do not provide a reliable basis for tracking students across the whole range of secondary subjects, which is what Progress 8 does.

• A huge majority, 92% of teachers, report that their workload has increased as a result of data collection for Progress 8.

• 72% of respondents feel that meeting the demands of Progress 8 takes time away from teaching young people.