Academies have freedom to force unacceptable conditions of service on teachers – and that’s a good thing, according to Secretary of State

Janet Downs's picture
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.


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andy's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 12:10

Janet, while I agree the thrust and spirit of your comments it is true to say that under the Work Force Reform negotiations agreed between the last government and major unions item 8 of the non-teaching admin tasks was display boards:


The “24 tasks”

What is a real threat to teachers moral - and moreover recruitment and retention - are the powers given to Academies and Free School to step outside the teachers Standard Pay and Terms and Conditions - the Burgundy Book. This permits Governing bodies and Principals to get around the to 1265 hours, extend the school day and step outside the (current) national pay scales.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 14:09

Andy - thanks for that. I will update the thread to include a correction. I retired before the Work Force Reform negotiations came into force and I regularly put up displays. I used to enjoy doing it and I think if I were teaching now I would still do it myself - it would probably be quicker than standing around directing someone else to do it. Do you know if teachers still routinely put up their own displays?

andy's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 12:11

Oophs, sorry for moral read morale ...

andy's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 14:26

Hi Janet. That's a difficult one. In my last school we restructured to employ non-teaching colleagues as Departmental Support Assistants who amongst many other things had responsibility for displays. But, there was a patchwork quilt response in that in the main the DSAs did the corridor displays and some of the classrooms. Individual colleagues were given the freedom to choose whether they did display work and thus some did and some didn't (even down to some helped with corridor displays and some didn't). In terms of the union reps they were happy that the 'school' had provided a mechanism through which their members didn't have to do displays but didn't get involved where coilleagues/union members voluntarily chose to do it. Daft but essentially the human approach won out. That said, and anecdotally, I heard of cases where local union reps went out of their way to enforce the rules (and undoubtedly lost some members to other unions ...)

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 14:41

Thanks, Andy. I used to feel very personal about my wall displays (any empty wall would soon be covered with my stuff if no-one else laid claim to it). I used to go around the school with drawing pins in my pocket so I could do running repairs on any damaged displays (even when they weren't mine).

While I agree with most of the things on the Work Force Reform list (bulk photocopying and doing technical stuff on computers used to eat up much of my precious non-contact time) I would ignore any directive not to put up displays (Mr Gove please note). In the unlikely event that some over-zealous union official (I've never met one actually) told me I shouldn't be putting up displays then I would deny all responsibility. In any case, I could say I wasn't doing it "routinely" but just doing it now and again as required. And, as you say, I could always have changed to another union.

andy's picture
Sat, 07/07/2012 - 14:45

Ha, Janet, just another wonderful example of how all MPs (SoS or otherwise) selectively chose they soundbites to suit their ends. This one even appears to have the Sutton Trust in his pocket ...!

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 08/07/2012 - 13:21

In Finland it is expected that teachers will also be enthusiastic learners and will therefore be role models for their students to help them also become so.

So teachers need time to be able to explore and nurture their wider interests.

Under Gove's model the plan is to milk teachers dry of the knowledge they had when they entered the profession and then chuck them on the scrapheap when they have their own children and cannot therefore work 80 hour weeks any more - at about the point at which their own knowledge will be out of date. I guess he hasn't read the bit in the OECD report Janet linked to here about the challenges of teacher recruitment in the UK. But then perhaps he and this government are planning to keep us in the depths of recession to stave off there being any problem.

I say 'the plan' but that term does, of course, suggest that there is a degree of planning beyond waking up in the morning with yet another 'brilliant'(ly ignorant half-baked) idea.

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