‘Our action will challenge 48-hour working week expectations’

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach explains why his members will be taking industrial action this month, and how it will affect schools

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach explains why his members will be taking industrial action this month, and how it will affect schools

1 Sep 2023, 15:07

Dr Patrick Roach

The start of a new academic year should be an exciting and hopeful time for teachers and school leaders. But for too many in the profession the new school year comes with the dread of the gathering exhaustion, stress and long hours which lie ahead.

At the NASUWT we don’t believe this should be an inevitable part of the job. We believe change is possible, which is why from later this month we will be launching the next phase of our ‘Better Deal for Teachers‘ campaign aimed at providing members with the tools to bring downward pressure on their workloads and working hours.

Following our successful industrial action ballots of members last term, we will be beginning a campaign of action short of strike action.

Members in schools and sixth form colleges will be issued with instructions and guidance aimed at limiting workloads and working time – working to contract; not undertaking directed extra-curricular activities; not routinely covering for absent colleagues; and limiting workload pressures associated with attendance at meetings, marking, planning and data management.

Our action will focus initially on ensuring that our members benefit from their working time rights. Our action is designed to help bring downward pressure on workload and working hours.

The government has said that excessive workload is a problem that must be tackled. We will be putting that to the test.

Ministers could demonstrate the courage of their convictions by endorsing the action that NASUWT members will be taking, because the action we are announcing will not disrupt pupils’ education. Instead, it is focused on the bureaucracy and non-teaching tasks which we know are doing so much to increase workloads, contributing to teacher stress and burnout, and distracting teachers from being able to focus on teaching and learning.

Our members will still teach and prepare for lessons.

This action will mean that for the first time in a decade specific measures and protections are being put into place to tackle excessive workload and working hours and to ensure teachers’ health, safety and welfare.

We can no longer allow teachers to be exhausted by the demands of the job

It was the prospect of coordinated industrial action by teaching unions that finally brought the government back to the negotiating table last term with an improved pay offer and associated package of funding and workload measures.

While the vast majority of NASUWT members accepted the STRB’s pay recommendation, this still did not address the need for pay restoration following more than a decade in which the value of teachers pay has fallen by more than a quarter in real-terms.

But, more than pay, only 18 per cent of those who responded to our consultation felt the government was doing enough to address workload concerns.

The measures outlined by the government of a target to reduce teachers’ working hours by a minimum of five hours a week, measures to strengthen teachers’ working time rights and protections and the establishment of a national taskforce to tackle workload are welcome if they lead to tangible change. However, we believe teachers and headteachers need immediate levers to bring down their workloads. 

The government has long been aware from its own evidence of the excessive working hours of teachers. It has had years to take action.

The promise to reduce teachers’ average working hours by five hours per week is still an ambition; it has not yet been delivered.

The expectation that teachers and headteachers should continue to work hours in excess of even the 48 hour legal working time limit has to be challenged. Our industrial action will be doing just that.

We can no longer allow teachers to be overworked and exhausted by the demands of the job.

We will be continuing to press the government to take more urgent action on workload and working hours, but we believe the time has come for teachers and headteachers to take matters into their own hands, with our support and backing, as we continue our campaign to secure a better deal for teachers. 

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