Editorial: Reducing teacher and principal workload
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 1, 21 February 2020, page no. 5
The QTU Conference – at 250 elected delegates, the largest QTU decision-making forum short of a membership ballot – decided that the reduction of teacher and principal workload in a sustained way would be the Union’s number one priority for 2019-2021.
There are two very important words in that statement: “reduced” and “sustained”.
The current levels of workload are excessive. The objective that the Conference deliberately adopted was not to manage workload or to adapt or to build resilience, but to reduce workload, to decrease the number of hours worked. Nor is the QTU interested in temporary relief that removes workload at the start but leaves intact the mechanisms that generate additional workload. The reduction in workload must be sustainable.
How excessive is workload?
One of the difficulties in tackling teacher and principal workload has been the lack of a clear definition of the extent of working hours. What is specified is the 25 hours of student instruction each week, the school term times and the student free days. Beyond that, the working hours are flexible, the work generally being recognised as a “take-home job”.
But it is possible to construct a benchmark for purposes of comparison with other workers, without sacrificing the flexibility that can be both an advantage and a necessity of working in schools. A Queensland public servant works 36¼ hours per week for 46 weeks, after annual leave and public holidays are taken out. To work the same total number of hours over 40 teaching weeks (public holidays and SFDs cancel out), a teacher or principal would have to work 41.7 hours per week. Anything above this is additional working time (and note the assumption that no school work or PD is undertaken on school holidays!).
2018 QTU Workload Survey
At the end of 2018, the QTU commissioned the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) to undertake a workload survey of Queensland teachers and principals.
Among teachers, 53.3 per cent worked up to 45 hours per week, or up to 3.3 extra hours. The remaining 46.7 per cent worked more than 45 hours per week, with 14.2 per cent working more than 60 hours per week. Principals (including deputy principals and heads of school) worked an average of 61.8 hours in a typical week.
These levels of overwork are beyond the tweaking of a “red-tape review”. A reduction of workload to a legitimate level will require teachers and principals to STOP DOING THINGS that they currently do. And it requires a reduction BELOW 41.7 hours per week to make room for time to be spent on reflection, professional development and collaboration with colleagues.
What are the sources of excessive workload?
The reality is that there are multiple sources at multiple levels:
- national – federal government, AITSL, ACARA, Education Council
- state – state government and department, QCAA, QCT
- regional – regional directors, ARDs and “regional priorities”
- school – school plans and priorities, explicit improvement agendas, school reviews
- individual – yes, even you, though we are not blaming the victim.
Some of the causes are cultural: expectations of excess work; being accused wrongly as “unprofessional” for managing your workload and rejecting excess; being expected to put students’ wellbeing before your own; promotion processes that prize “achievements” over staff morale and wellbeing; and so on.
What is happening?
The Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal Conference in February will consider Queensland motions from last year to make workload a national focus. That will include demanding a voice for unions on the governing bodies of ACARA and AITSL so that workload issues can be raised at the conceptual stages of change. It will involve participation in a federal review of red-tape in education to be conducted by AITSL.
At a state level, the certification of the schools EB agreement in November 2019 created a Workload Advisory Council to examine causes of and solutions for excessive workload. The first meeting of the Council was scheduled for 18 February.
Late in 2019, the QTU committed its support to an Australian Research Council application to investigate the impact of technology on work intensification, including the creation of a workload recording app.
The 2020 QTU budget will make an initial provision of $500,000 for activities associated with the Union’s workload reduction campaign, including the employment of a project officer to work full-time on this campaign with an emphasis initially on workshops at a school level to identify which activities are priorities for removal.
QTU Area Councils will be asked to identify regional priorities and actions creating excess workloads so that these can be considered and addressed at the Workload Advisory Council.
You will be able to follow developments on the QTU website, through Member Newsflashes and specific workload bulletins. More importantly, you will be able to contribute your ideas to the Union and to the Workload Advisory Council. Sit down with your colleagues and get your thinking caps on!