Editorial: Let’s aim for less work in 2017

The school vacation period has always been a period of reflection and re-assessment for me and, I suspect, most teachers (what worked, what didn’t and what’s coming up) in a time of comparative calm. That is, of course, if you leave aside Christmas, travel, relocation and transfer, a new school, finding a new place and more.

It seems strange to be writing this with two months of the year still to go, but I want to put in a bid for you to think about your workload during the year over Christmas. If you still make New Year's resolutions, here is one to consider: “Work less, live more.” The stats back you up.

Doing the maths

The standard working year in the Australian workforce is 48 weeks, after four weeks of annual leave is accounted for. Take away another two weeks for public holidays and we are down to 46 weeks. The standard working week in Australia is 38 hours per week. That gives a total of 1,748 working hours per year.

We haven’t historically made this comparison, but if you average this over 40 weeks (add student free days and reduce for public holidays), the average for 1,748 working hours per year is 43.7 hours per week. The huge assumption is that teachers don’t do any school work over holidays, which we know is grossly untrue. So this is a very conservative calculation of hours – a worst case scenario, as it were.

The AEU’s State of Our Schools Survey for 2016 records 26 per cent of teachers working 55+ hours per week, and 71 per cent working more than 45 hours per week. Seventy-seven per cent say that their workload has increased in the past year, with only two per cent saying their workload has decreased.

In the last QTU membership survey, concern about workload was the second most important concern after job security, at unprecedented levels.

Doing the myths

I fear that teachers take to heart, more than they let on, the perennial criticisms of only working 9 -3 and having all school holidays off, and they overcompensate as a result. I’m not saying that teaching is about clocking on and clocking off, or stopping work after the 42nd minute of the 44th hour of work. Rather, I’m saying that the mathematics confirms teacher’s perceptions of overwork. We shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

I’ve often wondered loudly at Christmas time (when this seems to come up a lot) why people aren’t breaking their necks to get into teaching if it is as good a gig as they claim – particularly the person having a dig. I observed to a group of lawyers with whom I was speaking recently that teaching is still the only profession I know that tries to deal with 25 “clients” at the same time in the same room!

What to do

One solution sometimes proposed is to regulate teachers' hours and attendance time (as opposed to student instruction time). Victoria is cited as an example. I think that remains an option, but for me it is a last resort.

Teachers have led the workforce, in some ways, in flexible working hours outside of student attendance and working from home. It was family friendly working conditions before it became fashionable. I don’t think we should throw out flexibility for teachers as employees to achieve a longer defined period at work that may well see the work expand to fill the longer attendance time and still leave out-of-hours demands unchanged. Given complaints about reimbursing lost non-contact time for planned school activities, I wouldn’t be confident about that strategy.

The work of teaching is limitless. The breadth of activities assigned to teachers is vast; each activity is capable of endless dissection, revision and refinement.

The workload of teachers must be established and asserted by teachers and the Union.
The new schools EB brings more of the issues around workload into the realms of consultation.

  • Non-contact time is to be used for teacher-directed purposes. 
  • Meetings (I’ve always liked their characterisation as the practical alternative to work), or at least the program of meetings, is to be the subject of consultation. 
  • Is the use of teachers for playground supervision minimised? That has been a condition since 1990. Is it being applied? 
  • Class sizes are only to exceed targets in exceptional circumstances and after consultation.
  • Are teachers, HODs and HOCs getting their entitlements to non-contact time?

One theory of enterprise bargaining has two phases: first, getting an agreement; then making sure it is implemented. Let’s make a dint in workload in 2017.

Graham Moloney                                                                                                             General Secretary

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 8, 11 November 2016, p5