What’s the Union doing about workload?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 6, 16 August 2019, page no. 12
It was clear from the EB debate at the QTU Conference (as it was in the QTU Member Needs Survey earlier this year) that excessive and increasing workload remains the most pressing issue for members.
Yet it is equally clear that EB bargaining alone will never be sufficient to address the issue. Workload is an issue that can never be solved solely via industrial instruments, as it is also a professional issue.
If there is no silver bullet around workload, we need to identify what is causing the workload issues in schools and provide a framework for members to prepare submissions for the Workload Advisory Council.
We also need to do more than identify the issue – we need to understand how the issue is contributing to workload.
We are very quick to say, for example, “Got an issue with data? Well the solution is a data plan, do you have one in place? Do you review the data plan? Is it adhered to?”
But what we should be asking is “What is it about data? Is there is too much? Are we collecting it for the sake of having data? While data is valuable, are you finding that after you’ve met and discussed student progress, you are left with more work to do on short timeframes?”
To really unpack the issues with workload, we need to use an inquiry method of communication, being intentional in what we are asking and hearing, rather than being solutions-focused. This will allow us to really understand how these issues contribute to the workload of members.
It will also allow us to stop responding with “just say no”, because sometimes these are things that we do not want to say no to or that are inherent to our roles.
When we understand the cause of the workload, we can work to address it. This means that some of the measures that already exist may need to be modified or updated, so that they can make a real impact on workload and positively affect our working lives.
This approach was taken during the recent QTU Conference, when a break-out group (pictured) discussed the impact of the new SATE system on secondary and P-12 schools.
What measures were there to address workload in EB8 (the 2016 agreement)?
Recent years have seen workload continuing to increase, despite the introduction of a raft of measures specifically designed to address it in the 2016 EB agreement.
- the clarification of the use of non-contact time
- the exceptional circumstances consideration regarding class sizes
- NCT protection for associate administrators
- the requirement for LCCs to consider workload when considering changes
- joint statements on data; collegial engagement in classrooms; planning and preparation; and NAPLAN
- the replacement of non-contact time lost due to planned school activities
- the requirement to consult on and clarify the purpose, frequency and duration of staff meetings; and more.
What tools exist to support these measures?
The LCC - The most explicit statement about workload in the current agreement is in clause 3.1.9, where the local consultative committee (LCC) is recognised as the “key mechanism for managing workload issues at the workplace level.” The LCC, which includes both management and member representatives, considers matters impacting on workload and should meet regularly (at least once a term). Teachers must be contributing to the decision-making process, not only in appearance, but in fact.
Staff meetings - The LCC should clearly outline the purpose, frequency and duration of staff meetings. After feedback from members, the school meeting schedule should be published on the school calendar and in LCC minutes.
Breaks - A full-time teacher is entitled to 225 minutes of uninterrupted meal breaks each week. A teacher working a reduced fraction will have their meal breaks calculated on a pro-rata basis, i.e. 0.6 x 225 minutes = 135 minutes. Whether the minimum period of uninterrupted meal break per day is 45 minutes or 30 minutes will depend on whether your school has considered changing the length of the meal breaks through the LCC. In addition, teachers are entitled to a 10-minute rest/pause each day in a break separate to the time allocated for the meal break, which cannot be averaged across the week.
Data - The QTU and DET’s “Joint statement on the purpose and use of data in Queensland schools” concludes that it is counter-productive for teachers to spend time on data tasks that are not intrinsically linked to student learning, and that they should focus on relevant data that informs everyday teaching practice and the next steps for learning for students. The joint statement requires schools to develop a data plan, in consultation with teaching staff (including the LCC).
Non-contact time - All classroom teachers are entitled to access NCT, which is to be used for the purpose of preparation, planning and correction, at the teacher’s discretion. Above the award entitlement, the use of NCT is at the principal’s discretion. NCT lost due to planned school activities should be replaced/made up. A process to replace lost NCT, including the timeframe, should be agreed following consultation through the LCC.
Class sizes - Class size targets are currently:
Prep - 3, 11-12………25 students per class
Years 4-10.…………..28 students per class.
The agreement states “Classes in excess of these maximum target sizes should only occur in exceptional circumstances.” In such exceptional circumstances, staff must be consulted.
If there were measures to address workload in the 2016 agreement and workload still increased, what will be different in the new agreement?
A different and sustained approach is required to address the causes of workload at multiple levels: national, state, regional, school and personal.
While the Union supports wellbeing strategies, the objective is to reduce workload to reasonable levels rather than to apply Band-Aids to the effects of excessive workload.
The proposed Workload Advisory Council (WAC) offers a mechanism to identify and address the causes of workload, and the QTU has already written to the government and the department calling for it to be fast-tracked, and for its work to commence immediately.
The Workload Advisory Council is also aligned to the Queensland Government delivering on an election commitment to review workload. In correspondence to the Minister in May, the QTU called on the government to commence the review.
It was clear that its scope needs to go beyond “red tape reduction” matters and treating the symptoms of excessive workload to addressing the causes.
The QTU advised the Minister that, without limiting the scope of the review, it should:
- canvass the impact of cascading, sometimes contradictory, expectations of the work of principals and teachers
- include a realistic evaluation of workload impacts in the decision making for the introduction of initiatives
- remove unproductive or low value contributors to workload
- establish mechanisms to challenge the imposition of excessive workload at a local and systemic level.
It is these principles that will inform the QTU’s representatives as they consider matters at the WAC.