Skip to main content

Given the evidence around the importance of teacher quality on educational outcomes the Government has put a strong focus on raising the status of the profession and supporting the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers. A key part of this has been the aim to reform teachers’ pay and conditions, based on extending freedom and responsibility to teachers as professionals. International evidence demonstrates that the highest performing education systems are autonomous and accountable. Autonomy is important not only to raise the status of the profession, but because of the innovation it can lead to. Reforms to further professionalise the workforce have also been seen across public service areas, for example the Winsor Review of pay and conditions for the police.

Following its recommendations on performance related pay, Michael Gove asked the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to consider non-pay conditions for teachers – including provisions on working hours (a limit of 1,265 hours of directed time for full-time classroom teachers, which must be spread over a maximum of 195 days), protected planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, the provision that teachers “rarely cover” and the list of 21 administrative tasks which teachers should not routinely carry out. The STRB reported yesterday that it did not recommend lifting restrictions on working hours, PPA time or “rarely cover” provisions, but it did propose removal of the list of administrative tasks. The Secretary of State has said that he intends to accept the recommendations, subject to the outcomes of the consultation which will now take place.

While recommendations on the list of 21 administrative tasks can be welcomed, the lack of reform on other areas is a cause for concern. Academies already have the freedom not to follow national terms and conditions for teachers and removing the national level prescription would have been an opportunity to extend this to all schools. The provisions around working hours, “rarely cover” and PPA time can impact on quality contact time for pupils, prevent the most effective deployment of the workforce and limit how head teachers manage their schools. A particular challenge is how the provisions impact on the ability of schools to change the hours of the school day and the structure of school terms, without employing significantly greater numbers of staff. This is at odds with changes for maintained schools, which have been granted more flexibility to change the length of the school day since 2011 and from 2015 will be able to alter the structure of the school year.

Removing the national level prescription would also allow academies and free schools to make the most of their freedoms in practice. In 2012, Reform and the SSAT carried out an extensive survey of academies in England, Plan A+, which showed that some academies are operating lengthened school days and different structures for the school year, yet the changes were not widespread. Of those academies surveyed, 36% planned to/had made changes to the school year, 17% planned to lengthen/had lengthened the school day and 25% planned to/had made changes to terms and conditions. Strikingly, 60% of schools said they did not plan to make use of academy freedoms because the existence of national pay and conditions made it culturally difficult to do so. Those who have made changes have shown that greater commitment can be rewarded appropriately for example through pay or other incentives such as more professional development.

As well as the potential impact these changes could have on outcomes, it is also important to consider the spending context: schools are likely to face greater budgetary pressures in future years, given the projected increase in pupil numbers and the continued pressure on the public finances. There have been significant cost implications associated with the changes introduced since the National Agreement was signed in 2003. For example, the number of teaching assistants has risen from 79,000 in 2000 to 232,200 in 2012. Money will have to be spent more effectively in the years to come and giving schools more flexibility in order to do this would mean they were able to make decisions based on their circumstances.

This post is based on Kimberley’s recent remarks at the Wesminster Education Forum.

Kimberley Trewhitt is a Research Director at Reform.

Follow Kimberley on Twitter.

Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

If you are interested in contributing please e-mail or tweet @jonathanalgar.