Teaching Profession

Historic Pact Expected to Lighten British Teachers’ Workload

By Bess Keller — February 12, 2003 3 min read

Teachers’ unions and government leaders in Britain have agreed on a plan to redistribute the work in schools so that teachers will have more time for better teaching but a lighter load overall.

Two years in the making, the historic deal to rewrite teachers’ contracts in England and Wales is moving forward without the support of the nation’s largest teachers’ union, which fears that teaching assistants could replace teachers under cover of the agreement.

The pact attempts to temper escalating demands on teachers—who are in short supply in Britain as they are in many places and specialties in the United States—as well as help them meet higher standards for student achievement.

A government-sponsored study in 2001 found that British teachers worked hours comparable to those of other professions, when averaged over the year. But when schools were in session, they worked on average 52 hours a week, and 16 percent of their time went to administrative and other tasks.

The agreement includes the guarantee of the equivalent of a half-day a week for planning, assessment, and marking; the elimination of nonteaching tasks by the coming school year; and a cap on the number of hours a teacher must spend covering the classes of absent colleagues. It also makes a commitment to cut teachers’ total hours within four years.

“This package of reforms will change the way teaching and learning develops in the United Kingdom,” said a government spokeswoman. “Pupils will get more attention, and teachers will get more time to teach.”

The spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified, likened the envisioned changes to those that were made years ago in hospitals, where doctors, nurses, and other workers have different roles related to the care of patients. In the case of schools, teachers would be analogous to doctors, and teaching assistants would function somewhat as nurses do.

‘Price Is Too High’

Under the agreement, a class of high-level teaching assistants— not yet established—would be allowed to provide occasional lessons. That provision was the sticking point with the National Union of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers’ association, with 210,000 teachers in state schools at the precollegiate level.

In a statement to members, the head of the union, Doug McAvoy, praised the government’s deal as offering “significant improvements in the contract.” But, he declared, “the price is to accept that unqualified persons will teach whole classes. That price is too high.”

Some unionists, school administrators, and members of local education authorities fear that the extra money the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised—predicted to be the equivalent of about $1.64 billion a year in U.S. money by 2005—won’t be enough to make the agreement work.

They say that the money can help recruit more teachers and support-staff employees, but that if teachers continue to be in short supply, it will be hard to ease workloads without blurring the division between teachers and assistants. Some have calculated that the additional money divided among all the primary schools involved would not be enough to employ a single full-time teaching assistant.

A Seat at the Table

Gerald Imison of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the country’s third-largest teachers’ union, acknowledged the danger in the plan. But, he said, taking the risk was the only way to be at the table, pressing for a workload restructured along lines favored by teachers.

Primary teachers in particular were crying out for time during the school day to prepare lessons and grade papers, according to Mr. Imison. “We have many, many reports of teachers working from 8 in the morning till school finishes at 3,” he said, without any break from the classroom other than for lunch. The result is an additional several hours of work after school and at home in the evening.

Mr. Imison’s union was one of five that signed the agreement last month, making the National Union of Teachers the only holdout among the six major teachers’ unions. As such, government leaders have excluded them from talks to flesh out the agreement.

“The agreement sets a framework with detailed negotiations to come that will make it or break it,” Mr. Imison said. “Our executive committee has made it clear that if we can’t get the safeguards we want, we may have to walk away.”

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP