THE issue of teaching-hours exemptions for state educators, which is costing the state millions, must be properly regulated by law, the attorney-general has said.
In a legal opinion delivered to Education Minister Costas Kadis, AG Costas Clerides said that secondary legislation should regulate the matter of teachers being exempted from working hours on the grounds that they are engaged in other school activities.
Secondary, or delegated, legislation allows the government to make changes to the law using powers conferred by an act of parliament.
Practice costs state almost €11
The education minister had earlier requested an opinion from the AG on who has the authority to regulate teaching hours – the minister in charge, the cabinet or parliament. The AG’s opinion, dated this July 13, was copied to Auditor-general Odysseas Michvaelides, who made it public.
The minister’s hand was forced after Michaelides zeroed in on the practice of teachers claiming other school activities to do fewer teaching hours.
Michaelides had cited a ministry study that showed the number of exemptions from teaching hours between 2003 and 2004 amounted to the working hours for the year of 554 full-time educators. This cost the state almost €11 million.
Exemptions are granted for various reasons including if a teacher needs to prepare for an Olympiad or if a music teacher is preparing a school play. Department chiefs regularly get two hours off their teaching duties for admin.
The audit boss is calling for a transparent system where teachers’ claims for such exemptions can be verified.
In a statement issued earlier this week, and with the AG’s opinion in hand, Michaelides cited data showing that actual teaching hours of Cypriot state educators were at about 70 per cent of the global average.
An International Monetary Fund study on education in 2013 for Cyprus found “that teachers in Cyprus have little teaching time compared to other countries in the EU.”
Explaining his motives for engaging with the issue, the audit boss said that containing wasteful spending – such as teachers being paid their normal salaries regardless of how many hours they put in class – would generate savings that could be put to use upgrading infrastructures and the quality of education.
Previously, Michaelides had also pointed out that there was no justification for the practice whereby the more years a teacher has been working, the less hours they need to put in. For example, in primary schools a teacher with 1-14 years of service has to do 29 class periods per week. Those with 15-20 years of service had their class periods reduced to 27 per week and those with 21 years of service, or on reaching the age of 50 had classes reduced to 25 per week, the theory being as they become older, they would find it more difficult physically to cope with the demands of the job.
Primary school teachers union POED had earlier threatened to strike in the new school year (2016-2017) unless the education ministry resolved “education problems”. One of their demands was that teaching time be reduced for those who also sit on schools’ management committees.