Any move to abolish the directed time cap for teachers will be “met with fury in the profession”, a union leader has warned.
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, National Education Union general secretary Dr Mary Bousted warned the government that engaging in a “woke war” with teachers over their working hours was a “big mistake”.
The Guardian reported this week that the government is considering scrapping the 1,265-hour directed time cap for teachers. It is one of a raft of measures, including the restoration of SATs for 14-year-olds, being considered under a proposed new white paper.
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.
However, in reality, many teachers already work over these hours. A 2019 report found that teachers work an average of 47 hours a week, with one in four working more than 59 hours.
Asked by Schools Week about the reports, Bousted said the government should instead work on making teachers’ time more productive.
“The idea that you can just simply say we’re abolishing 1,265 and you all work harder, I can tell you that will be met with fury in the profession. Don’t go there. Instead, start working with us about how do we use that time better?
“If you think that you can engage a woke war with teachers on abolishing the level of directed time and expect to have goodwill from the profession, you are really making a big mistake, particularly after the pandemic where teachers went so far over the call of duty.”
Bousted also revealed that a “well-connected” source had told her the rumours were a “way of distracting attention from failure at secretary of state level”, following the departure of Gavin Williamson from the role last month.
“Worryingly, I’d heard about it before the Guardian article. But I hope it’s the last gasps of a secretary of state for education who was not having a good time, and had turned to a woke war because everything else was going so badly wrong.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said he believed the government had “run out of steam very early on in terms of education direction”.
“If the answer to your question is let’s look at 1,265 and introduce more tests for 14, you’re really asking the wrong question there.
“I’m hoping that it was a bit of kite-flying just designed to provoke.”
The government was not represented on the fringe panel, but Conservative MP Tom Hunt, a member of the education select committee, said he didn’t think the rumours were “about the culture war”.
However, he did also admit he thought it was “potentially not the right decision”, though he would not comment further on “speculation”.