Education Column: Teachers’ tasks carry on beyond the classroom - and all are essential

The move follows a consultation with parents, teaching staff, governors and unions.
The move follows a consultation with parents, teaching staff, governors and unions.

I spoke to a teacher at a Sheffield secondary school this week and got an insight into how much time they had spent working over the last few weeks.

Being involved in extra-curricular activities, they gave up two days in their half term holiday and have been hosting events at school on several nights over the last few weeks.

This comes on top of the usual teaching demands: the marking every night, the planning at a weekend, the parents’ nights and the Options Evenings held at this time of year.

Work out an hourly rate for the most dedicated of teachers and you’ll come up with a figure way below other professional occupations.

So when last week’s speech by Damien Hinds flagged up the pointless tasks carried out by teachers and how there was a drastic need for a cut in workload, everybody in the education industry tuned in to see what was on offer.

Hinds, in case you didn’t realise, is the new education secretary nobody has heard of. His speech to teachers this week was designed to make a real impact and delivery a punchy start to his tenure. We need to cut workload – who wouldn’t love him saying for that?

The teacher recruitment crisis was the main focus of his speech – the targets to attract more teachers to the job have not been hit for five years on the bounce and this is having a major impact on several key subjects.

Hinds quite rightly reckons that the work-life balance of teachers must improve if top-quality staff are going to be recruited and, more importantly, retained for the entirety of their career.

One of the main soundbites to come out of the speech involved teachers giving up non-teaching tasks that distracted from time spent preparing lessons.

It was a vague notion with no meaning. What exactly are these non-teaching tasks that can be dropped, Damien?

Do you mean things like marking books until the early hours? Providing feedback on homework? Or maybe the phone calls home about good and bad behaviour.

Perhaps you’re referring to the display that I put up – the one that the admin assistant was supposed to do but she couldn’t because she was made redundant years ago.

Most teachers, of course, would refer to all of these tasks as being essential. They are a key part of a job that involves so much more than standing in front of a classroom of kids.

Damien Hinds’ other method of saving time for teachers was to promise there would be no more reforms to GCSE and A-level courses during the lifetime of this Parliament.

I’m presuming this was some kind of joke. A shallower cup of cheer, I cannot remember.

Promising that there would be no more change for the next four years it little consolation when we are still in the middle of the most sweeping reforms to GCSE and A-level in history.

The full roll-over of these changes is ongoing and the dust will only just have settled at the end of this Parliament, so the pledge not to make any more changes is a meaningless one.

What we need, Damien, is more money. An end to austerity. An extra penny on income tax.

Then, we can give teachers what they actually need to do their job – more non-teaching time and more support staff doing the admin tasks.

Remember the old saying about giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

Well, this week the government has given us Damien Hinds’ first major speech while his government prepared to take away one million free school meals from the dinner plates of poor children thanks to the shake up of Universal Credit.

As for the teacher I was speaking to, they will continue to put in the extra hours. They will still go above and beyond providing a superb service to Sheffield children.

At least for the time being. Like many, they have one eye on a different career because of the demands within this profession.