More teaching hours, less planning time, less marking time

I am a teacher in a Sixth Form College. Over the last few years, the number of full time teaching hours per week has increased from 21 to nearly 26 hours. Out of a 30-hour College week, this means many staff working from 8.40 to 4.10pm with only lunch breaks, which are inevitably taken up with preparing lessons, moving resources etc.

The increase in hours is directly attributable to the huge cuts in Post-16 education. The increase in hours means as teachers we now have to do nearly all our planning and marking out of school time. The marking load in Post-16 is huge, as you can imagine A Level students write long essays! The end outcomes of these cuts result in one or more of these:

a) Teachers make short cuts in marking and planning, resulting in less well prepared lessons and less formal feedback for the students

b) Teachers work for 3+hours per night outside of College

c) Teachers work part-time hours and plan/mark on their ‘days off’

d) Teachers leave the profession

With rising mental health problems in teenagers, we need more time to nurture these students, not less. In my neediest GCSE retake classes with students with all sorts of SEN issues, there is hardly ever a teaching assistant. Students who are making transitions from PRUs back into mainstream education are expected to cope with the demands of independent BTEC learning with no in-class support, as there is no money to provide this support.

Teachers are leaving in droves, and never because of the teaching.

Squeezed budgets are driving experienced teachers out of the classroom

Cuts are forcing teachers out of the classroom: sparking a reliance on expensive consultants for expertise and endless rounds of recruitment.

We often hear of the teacher recruitment crisis, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. The real issue is retention. Until that’s been addressed, what’s the point of recruiting, only for teachers to leave? Squeezed budgets are leading to the loss of support staff – from teaching assistants to admin support – and swelling class sizes. This is adding to an already punishing workload, putting even more pressure on teachers who are already struggling to cope.

I’ve been concerned about the loss of experience from the classroom, and schools are increasingly shunning experience by advertising jobs specifically for newly or recently qualified staff, or for teachers on the main pay scale only. Some are saving money by ‘encouraging’ – in some cases by unethical means – experienced teachers to leave.  Obviously schools then have to mitigate the loss of accrued knowledge and expertise, perhaps by turning to expensive ‘consultants’ or adding to the ranks of ‘advisors’. It’s also a false economy in the sense that in the current climate recently qualified teachers are more likely to leave teaching altogether, meaning another expensive recruitment process.

Hidden scandal of the erosion of SEND services

What follows is a personal story, but I am writing it is an illustration of what is happening in SEND services across the land. Last September I retired after 32 years of being a teacher, mostly in Local Authority SEND support services and special facilities. I took early retirement at 55 because I couldn’t tolerate the stress of working twice the number of contracted hours that I was supposed to work, due to absurd workload, and the stress of feeling that I was failing vulnerable children and their families.

This workload increase, and reduced provision for children, was caused by covering the work of other people whose posts had been “deleted” in response to government cuts (the loss of the Revenue Support Grant and the real terms diminution of the High Needs Block which LAs receive to pay for SEND services, special schools and EHCPs).

To make it worse, most LAs SEND support services have been marketised: schools have to pay for them – but from nothing!  With schools having ever reducing budgets they stop purchasing LA services, then more cuts are made to services, and teachers workloads increase, and the services to children and parents decline; and then the remaining services are deemed to be of little help by schools and parents, because they don’t have enough staff to do a good job any more.

This is happening across the land  – SEND services evaporating everywhere – and on the whole only the parents of children effected and the teachers in those services really know the size of the cuts and the size of workload the remaining teachers face.