Ministers have abandoned proposals to scrap the cap on teachers’ annual working hours in their forthcoming white paper, believing they can achieve a longer school day through less drastic measures, Schools Week understands.
It comes after schools minister Robin Walker also appeared to rule out reintroducing SATs at key stage 3 earlier this week. Two of the most controversial policies considered for the white paper by former education secretary Gavin Williamson have now been ditched.
In September, The Guardian reported that the government was considering axing the 1,265-hour directed time cap for teachers, ahead of a schools white paper due out this year.
But the idea met with pushback from unions, with National Education Union joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted warning delegates at last year’s Conservative party conference that such a move would be “met with fury in the profession”.
Directed time is the number of hours in a year during which school leaders can direct teachers to be at work and available for work.
Many teachers already work more than these hours. A 2019 report found that they work an average of 47 hours a week, with one in four working more than 59 hours.
Ministers want longer day without change to teachers’ hours
Rumours that scrapping the cap was on a list of draft policies being drawn up under Williamson came as the government considered measures to implement a longer school day.
Although recommended by former education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins last year, measures were not included in subsequent school catch-up announcements.
A study published by the government found that extending the school day would involve “significant delivery considerations” including teaching capacity, new legislation and accountability measures to ensure quality.
However, Nadhim Zahawi, who succeeded Williamson in September, said he would “like to see” all schools move “towards” a six and a half-hour day, which is the current average.
Schools Week understands ministers think they can achieve this without scrapping limits on teachers’ hours.
A Schools Week investigation in October revealed how some schools have introduced two-week half-terms and slashed meeting times so they can extend the day without breaching the cap.
Walker appears to rule out return of KS3 tests
Williamson had also been considering the reintroduction of SATs for 14-year-olds. The tests were scrapped by the Labour government in 2008.
Walker appeared to rule out the move when he appeared in front of the education committee this week. However he did suggest that internal tests could be used to help boost literacy.
He said testing needed to be used “effectively” and warned that “some of the challenges” seen at key stage 3 currently were “to do with the pressure from tests at key stage 4”.
He added: “So therefore I’m not sure that more testing – certainly not more testing in public exams and direct qualifications – is the answer to that particular problem.”
He said the government would look at “how we make sure that we drive up numeracy and literacy through the whole of schools”.
He added: “What I’m very keen to do is [ensure] that we do have the tools necessary
to improve literacy and keep on improving literacy through the whole of schools.
“Some kind of internalised testing process, I think, could be part of the solution, but I don’t think it would be about reinstating a big major public exam at key stage 3.”
Internal tests ‘must not be accountability by the back door’
Internal tests at key stage 3 are already the norm for many schools across England. Some large assessment companies provide standardised tests for schools to use.
Geoff Barton, from the ASCL school leaders’ union, said any proposal from government must “not be a new accountability measure by the back door or be used to penalise schools or individual students”.
“We would not want to see any formalisation of these processes which takes away the autonomy of schools to decide on the best approach to learning for their pupils.”
Ofsted has been critical of schools narrowing key stage 3 curriculums in favour of spending more time on exams.
Walker said the key stage should be a “real opportunity for schools to teach a breadth of curriculum”. But “in many cases schools have not been looking to provide that breadth and richness which it’s open to them to do at that stage”.
However, he accepted that “one of the challenges” was not to create “perverse disincentives for schools to focus on other things”.