Stories + Views
Academies have freedom to force unacceptable conditions of service on teachers – and that’s a good thing, according to Secretary of State
Teachers in local authority (LA) maintained schools are “held back by the terms and conditions, the restrictive practices, which work against children’s welfare,” said Michael Gove.
What are these unacceptable “terms and conditions”? Could it be the hours that teachers work? The OECD found that in England working hours in teaching are already “fairly long compared to many other OECD countries”* but Mr Gove thinks that teachers should work longer so the school day can be “built around children’s needs.”
So what are these needs that require teachers to work longer? The main purpose of schools is to provide an education and in Finland this need is fulfilled within a shorter school day than in England. Yet Mr Gove wants English children and their teachers to spend more time in school. It appears that quantity, not quality, underpins Mr Gove’s idea of how to fulfil the need for education.
Perhaps the need isn’t to provide education but to supply child care. That’s the Unique Selling Product of some free schools. But child care is not education. And at what point does spending hours in an institution rather than with the family begin to neglect rather than meet the needs of a child?
What are the restrictive practices? Mr Gove named one that doesn’t exist – a prohibition on teachers putting up wall displays. What are the others? It appears that Mr Gove is referring to teachers’ conditions of service which, among other things, guarantee planning and preparation time and direct head teachers to “have regard” to teachers’ work-life balance.
Mr Gove linked the non-existent edict preventing teachers mounting wall displays with an existing rule requiring teachers to provide cover for absent colleagues “only rarely, and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable” thus implying that both rules are equally contemptible. According to Mr Gove, non-contact time, essential for planning and preparation, is an unreasonable perk which can easily be discarded.
Academies, Mr Gove enthuses, can ignore teachers’ conditions of service. Some academies expect teachers to sign a “no-hours” contract which means that teachers should work when required. No consideration is given to teachers’ work-life balance; no acceptance that teaching is a stressful occupation and it’s the conscientious teachers who are most likely to burn out or break down; no recognition that teachers also have their own families.
Pupils perform best when their teachers’ morale is high. That is the lesson from Finland. Teachers’ morale can never be high when teachers are expected to work in circumstances that leave them exhausted or when they are made to feel selfish if they ask for reasonable conditions of employment.
Education cannot be well unless all the teachers are well.
*OECD Economic Survey UK 2011, not available freely on the internet but details of how to get a copy are here.
UPDATE 7 JULY 2012. CORRECTION There are many clerical tasks which teachers are now not expected to undertake routinely. These are tasks which do not require professional judgement (such as bulk photocopying or collecting money) and were listed in the Work Force Reform negotiations. They include expecting teachers to put up wall displays. My assertion that Mr Gove had given a non-existent prohibition in his speech is, therefore, incorrect. Nevertheless, it does not detract from the main argument that academies can ignore Teachers’ Pay and Conditions of Service which could result in teachers being expected to take on an unreasonable amount of extra duties. I thank Andy for pointing this out and am happy to correct the error.