Magope Maphila (foreground), deputy president of the SA Democratic Teachers' Union attends their national general council at a Kempton Park hotel in eastern Johannesburg on Friday, 25 October 2013. The decision to suspend Sadtu president Thobile Ntola was not made lightly, Maphila said on Friday. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Cape Town - The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union has refuted media reports that it had ever called for longer holidays but says schools should employ additional support staff to take the pressure off teachers.

Sadtu was responding to reports that its general secretary Mugwena Maluleke had demanded additional holidays.

But the union said this was an “extreme exaggeration”.

“The general secretary was highlighting the systematic challenges faced by the department which are detrimental to the quality of education – one of which is the workload for teachers.” it said.

“It is a well known fact that teachers, particularly in public schools, are exposed to a high workload directly attributable to an unfavourable teacher/ learner ratio and the failure of the department to allocate teacher support services staff.”

As a result, the union said, teachers had to work on weekends and holidays.

“We are probably one of few countries that have resorted to almost daily early morning and late afternoon classes to compensate for normal school hours and increase learner contact time. This leaves teachers with little or no time for their families, leading to fatigue, demoralisation and under-performing.”

Teachers spent their holidays marking exams, writing reports and doing admin work. This led to stress, fatigue and leaving the system, it said.

“The solution to this would be to employ more support staff to do administrative work such as writing reports, consolidating marks and overseeing admissions so that teachers can focus on… teaching.”

Spokeswoman for NGO Equal Education Nombulelo Nyathela said teachers, especially those who worked in rural and township schools, had large class sizes and this led to additional marking and other work.

“That means teachers are going to be fatigued. They need more support, they need a better working environment.”

Nyathela said Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure would ensure uniform class sizes and proper facilities, including internet access and furniture.

“That would alleviate so much stress and make it so much easier for teachers and also assist the learners.”

Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said the issue of support staff at schools was a “burning issue”.

“Many schools don’t have more than one clerk, some don’t even have a clerk.” He added that the situation was different in each province.

Manuel said there was anecdotal evidence among teachers that holidays were too short as many had to spend time marking exams, attending workshops or holding extra classes.

“They are being subjected to other demands on their time during the holidays.”

Teachers were expected to work 205 days this year according to the 2014 school calendar.

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Cape Times