UK teachers forced to work 100-hour weeks

Teachers in independent schools are being denied the most basic employment rights, with some not having written contracts and others forced to work more than 100 hours a week.

Growing competition to perform well in league tables, and pressure from parents paying fees as high as £25,000 a year, are forcing head teachers to get rid of staff for the flimsiest of reasons, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) heard yesterday.

John Richardson, the union’s national officer for the independent schools, said that one teacher had been hauled over the coals by his head after a parent complained that her child had achieved 90 per cent in a test instead of an expected 95 per cent.

“If a parent takes a child out of school, that’s £25,000 in income out the door. There’s a motivation not to treat employees as fairly as they should be,” Mr Richardson said.

“I’m sure we have had members sacked as a result of parents’ complaints. The school may take the view that they are taking a financial decision based on possible loss of fees and the school’s reputation. It is a business decision.”

Teachers were routinely dismissed on the last day of term. They were often paid off and asked to sign a confi-dentiality clause, Mr Richardson said.

Speaking at the ATL’s annual conference in Torquay, he said that while teachers in the biggest independent schools could expect to earn a third more than colleagues in the state sector, those in smaller schools that were not members of the Independent Schools Council or any other professional body, were likely to earn less.

He estimated that 15 per cent in the independent sector did not have a contract of employment. Contracts often did not state what hours teachers were expected to work. He added that some schools were introducing compensatory time off for those working around the clock to supervise boarding pupils.

The union will debate a motion this week calling for staff to be paid at least the same as the standard national pay scales operating in the state sector.

Danny Cooper, of the Independent Schools Bursars Association, said that the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools had drawn up a model contract. He said: “I would be most surprised if teachers didn’t have a contract; we may be the independent sector but we are still governed by employment law.”

Hard lessons

– Peter Cash, the head of English at Newcastle-under Lyme School, Staffordshire (annual fees £21,000), was sacked over the school’s poor examination results and told not to work his notice period. He was reinstated after colleagues staged the first strike at an independent school

– Malvern College, Worcestershire (annual fees £25,000) paid £12,000 out of court to Barbara White, an assistant housemistress, who was paid an hourly rate of £3.75 — less than the minimum wage — to work more than 100 hours a week

– ATL won 90 days’ pay for staff at St Elphin’s School, Derbyshire, who were sacked when the owner landed his helicopter on the front lawn and ordered the school shut with immediate effect. Staff had to find accommodation for pupils from as far afield as Dubai.