The current joint teachers’ workload action, a form of work to rule, has been in force since October 3rd but for some reason Michael Gove discovered it this week and declared that teachers should have pay docked for following it. The DfE has doggedly sifted through the guidance, issued by both the NASUWT and the NUT, and obtained legal opinions on all the ‘instructions’ that comprise the action. Many have been declared to be ‘possible’ breaches of contract. The pamphlet sent to heads is festooned with all the hedging and caveats available to a civil servant who still has some pride but is also still flecked with the spittle of a minister who has been charged to, ‘Go away and FIND something.”
The workload action being followed by the NASUWT and NUT is nothing more than teachers following common sense and contract. It puts a cap on excessive workload. Well-run schools have reported that it pretty much adds up to what they generally want teachers to do outside of the teaching, preparing, marking, assessing, planning, researching and working with children and families that makes up the real job. The action addresses the silliness of excessive reporting, overly detailed plans, observations and OFSTEDS-for-the-sake-of-it, pop-up initiatives and tasks, and a whole host of things that have been in legislation for years anyway as tasks a teacher cannot be required to do.
The workload action being followed by the NASUWT and NUT is a pretty pallid response to teacher stress and burnout, a tame thing really, and it could easily be criticised for being a bit of a damp squib. Teachers will always do too much. They never know when to refuse, or when they can refuse and often their own head teachers want them to leave school before the site manager complains about having no home life any more. It’s upset Michael Gove though. He’s going to smash all those teachers working to contract. He’s going to take money off them. He’s going to make them pay for not destroying the site manager’s marriage.
How? How will he do that? How will these deductions be calculated? What wage deduction do you make of a teacher who says, ‘I have no more time this week to do a set of assessments you have just given me to do, because they will take me at least four hours, we have parents’ evening on Thursday and I won’t be home until 10.30 and your deadline of 8.00 am on Friday is the expectation of a valued and esteemed colleague who nonetheless never does any teaching themselves. My union will back me on this.’
And why has Mr Gove made his announcement ten weeks after the start of action? We can only speculate. Court action over grades, EBAC opposition, Labour’s stunning lead in the polls, adverse criticism over the STRB report and their silly plans for pay or maybe, as many (including me) have commented, he’s looking for the fight he needs for his political career to make a real mark.
Or maybe it’s working. This courteous, professional action, backed by 95% of teachers, so they can get on with teaching, not meeting, is both contractual and respectful. Gove so wants the teaching unions to start turning over cars and setting fire to them that he has started to imagine it and to salivate about punishment. Most heads and governors have got more sense and respect for their teachers than to do his dirty work. If it had been a problem for them, they’d have raised it ten weeks ago, surely.