Nicky Morgan replaced Michael Gove as education minister in July. Tory prime minister David Cameron wanted her to continue Gove's drive for academies and free schools, but smooth the sharp edges and win back some of the Tories' lost support among teachers and others concerned with schooling.
She asked teachers for ideas on easing workload, in a survey which closed on 21 November, and says she will announce plans in the New Year.
In my inner London secondary school, the National Union of Teachers school group did a survey of members, and found our mean working week is 61.5 hours, the median is 61, and the range goes up to 79 hours. And many of those hours are more intense than in other jobs. About 50% of trained teachers drop out of teaching within five years.
Teaching would probably be one of the more demanding jobs even in a socialist society. The very un-socialist system in England is much more oppressive than systems where teachers' union organisation is stronger.
Part of the cause is not cuts, but the opposite - the inflation of managerial staff in schools. My school in London has 11 vice-principals and assistant principals, where a school of similar size in Australia would have two, and countless "managers" and "directors" and "officers" doing what in Australia would be done by a single school business manager.
The system of six people doing the work of one leads to endless meetings, crackpot "initiatives" presumably decided because they wanted some outcome from the meetings and by that time didn't care much what, showers of emails, difficulty in getting definite answers on anything, and much less efficient administration.
For classroom teachers such over-management, and the fact of the managers being terrified by Ofsted and league tables, mean:
• fussy regulations about how students' work should be marked, data should be logged, and lessons should be planned;
• unnecessary meetings;
• punitive and oppressive lesson observations and "performance management" systems.
Theoretically teachers in local authority schools, and some academies, have a limit of 1,265 hours a year on their "directed time". Some schools, however, put heavy pressure on teachers to be on site between 7.30 am and 6 pm; and, unlike in other countries, there is no set limit on classroom hours.
In Finland, which tops international rankings for schooling outcomes, teachers do 20 classroom hours a week. In Queensland, Australia, it is 20.67 hours. In France, the standard requirement for teachers is 24 classroom hours a week. For “professeurs certifiés” in junior and senior high schools it is 16.5 hours. In Germany it varies from state to state. For Gymasium (like grammar school) teachers in Hamburg it is 21.4 hours.
The NUT has formulated eight demands on workload. Unfortunately the headline demands are all quite vague: where there are specifics, for example a limit to three observations a year, they are in the small print.
Patrick Murphy, the left candidate for NUT deputy general secretary, has made workload a theme of his campaign: "a national contract to apply to all teachers in state-funded institutions including academies". This contract needs to include definite ceilings on meetings, required written reports and data entry and performance management impositions.