A leading union has launched a petition calling for better conditions for teachers, including having smaller classes. It is the latest body to flag up the burnout risk for teachers.
Studies of teachers’ health in Switzerland show worrying results, says the union of public service workers (VPOD). “Many colleagues are approaching exhaustion,” said Katrin Meier, president of its committee on education, upbringing and science, in a statementexternal link.
There are many reasons for this, says VPOD, but chief among them are lack of resources in schools, education budget cuts, classes that are too big and ever-increasing administration.
That is why at a meeting in Neuchâtel of around 80 teachers at the weekend, the union launched its “Let us finally get back to teaching” petition calling for smaller classes, less administration for teachers and more respect for the profession.
Switzerland’s education authorities concede that teachers are facing big challenges at work. What has changed over the years is that knowledge updates faster than before, said Silvia Steinerexternal link. Steiner is president of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Educationexternal link - cantons are in charge of education in Switzerland - as well as head of education for the canton of Zurich.
“And: parents have higher expectations and the children are taught in a more individual way,” she said, speaking in an interview with Swiss public television SRFexternal link on Monday.
However she ruled out one of the union’s main requests – that for smaller classes. “The demand for smaller classes has, politically, never really been acceptable to the majority and this will remain so in future. Class size is fixed by law in most cantons.”
According to the latest survey by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Minister of Education, the average class size for schools in 2016/7 in Switzerland was between 23-25 pupils.
In comparison, the average primary school class in OECD countries in 2015 was 21 students, increasing to 23 students in lower secondary education, according to the OECD’s 2017 Education at a Glance.external link
Canton Zurich’s head of education added that Swiss teachers were very ambitious and wanted the best for their pupils, which put them at risk of a burnout.
In terms of what should be done, Steiner said that there were already many counselling tools available for teachers, but that they were not always taken up. Awareness needed to be raised, and teachers encouraged to seek help and recognize when they need it.
The risk of burnout to teachers has been much discussed. In late August 2017, just after the new school year started, the German-speaking Federation of Swiss Teachers (LCH) and its counterpart in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the SERexternal link, called for more measures to protect teachers’ healthexternal link in and out of the classroom, including having access to support when needed.
This followed on from a study commissioned by the SERexternal link which found that around 40% of teachers surveyed were “in a burnout situation”.
The Federation of Swiss Teachers has long been calling for smaller classes and a reduction to 26 hours of classes per teacher, saying that such measures would avoid a 55-hour working week, taking into account preparation and other administrative duties.