Teaching is more than time in the classroom

A motion by The National Union of Teachers has brought the job of a teacher into the headlines again. The motion demanded a limit of 20 hours teaching a week – a reduction from the current situation.

As expected this had lead to much discussion online – from those both in support of teachers and against and from those with experience of teaching and those who no nothing about what it’s like being a teacher. I was extremely annoyed this morning to read some of the twisting that is being done by certain individuals wishing to discredit the teaching profession. The last straw was a Tweet from Toby Young.

This lead to a huge barrage of Tweets criticising Mr Young with responses such as:

So what had he done wrong? One must assume that, in an attempt to turn the public against the NUT, he had tried to make out that teachers were wanting to work just 20 hours a week – a far cry from what was actually called for by the union of limiting time within the classroom to 20 hours.

The job of a teacher is much more than what is done in the classroom. For secondary school teachers (of which I have a small amount of experience) it involves planning, marking, meetings, playground duty, preparing classrooms, extra-curricular clubs, parents evenings, pupil review meetings, forum teacher duties, staff training and countless other tasks. Much of this done outside of the standard school day and none of it gets you any extra pay regardless of how long it takes.

The NUT made it clear (as reported here) the 20 hours teaching time was just that – teaching time in the classroom. They also said it would go alongside 10 hours preparation and marking time and 5 hours for other duties, making a 35 hour working week as the ideal aim (as has been the case in Scotland since 2001). Even with a reduction, this of course would not be the reality and we’d still see teachers still routinely working more than 35 hours a week. The small reduction to 20 hours teaching time would never reduce the reports of teachers working 50 hours, or even 70 hours a week down to just 35 hours (indeed the NUT report suggested teachers work over average 49.9 hours a week in secondary schools and more in primaries (see here.).

But this reduction would be a start of treating the teaching profession with respect – to ensure our teachers have the time available to focus on our young people’s best interests whilst also allowing a bit more time to live their own lives away from schools – something I feel is essential for all teachers to avoid them burning out.

But one thing missing from all these reports is the analysis of what the reduction to 20 hours teaching time really means. So from my experience here’s a bit of analysis. Typical rules at themoment state that a teacher should have 10% of their ‘teaching time’ for planning and marking etc. Many schools would have 25 hours of teaching scheduled a week, so the 10% rule would see each teacher spending 22.5 hours in the classroom per week on average. As many schools now run two-week timetables, this could see 22 hours one week and 23 the next.

So we see the call by the NUT is for a reduction of teaching hours by about 2.5 hours per week, increasing the ‘teaching time’ given over to planning and marking from 10% to 20% of the teaching week.

When I was teaching, a typical full time maths teacher would have 7 classes to teach for three hours a week, with another couple of hours a week either teaching PSE (personal and social education and citizenship) to their form group or sharing the teaching of an additional class with another teacher – equally about 23 hours in the classroom each week. The changes would mean a reduction to 6 classes for three hours each week alongside the additional duties teaching PSE or other classes.

Of course, the exact split of the work load will vary from teacher to teacher and school to school, but this should serve as a typical example and demonstrate that what the NUT is calling for is not that big a change, but is none-the-less and important one to ease the pressure on our teachers and help improve performance in our schools.

At a time when our teachers are under attack from many different sources, let’s keep a level head on this matter and look at the facts only and now the misreported headlines from people like Toby Young who are trying to make out our teachers are slackers. The most certainly are not slackers and he should be ashamed of himself.

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