Analysis: How to solve the workload puzzle

Teachers in England work very long hours – and have done so for a long time. But could a breakthrough on the workload puzzle be imminent?

solving puzzle

Only 20 per cent of teachers think their workload is “manageable”. That’s what the results of a study released by Tes last week show.

The findings chime with a separate study by University College London, also released last week, which found that one in four teachers works a 60-hour week.


Quick read: 53% of teachers say they're not listened to at work

Viewpoint: How a constant sense of threat feeds teacher workload

Workload: 1 in 4 teachers works a 60-hour week


The sad thing is that this news is hardly surprising. Indeed, it is becoming like an increasingly stuck tune.

And if you're wondering what that tune could be, how about Kylie Minogue’s Give Me Just A Little More Time, from 1992?

The year is relevant because that’s when the UCL research began. It went on for the next 25 years; researchers collected data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England with largely the same result; that workload was consistently high.

“Successive secretaries of state for education have made big commitments to teachers about their working hours,” said the UCL report’s lead author Professor John Jerrim.

“Our data shows just how difficult it is to reduce teacher workload.”

When I interviewed him earlier this month, education secretary Gavin Williamson mentioned the need to reduce workload. He said there was a need for teachers “not being distracted by other areas of work that aren’t delivering better educational outcomes”.

But that sounds like a remix of Nicky Morgan’s plan from 2014 when she launched the workload challenge, which eventually led to working groups being set up to try to devise ways to reduce the burden associated with marking, lesson planning and data management.

As I write this, I’m at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, where shadow education secretary Angela Rayner didn’t once mention the word “workload” in her main speech.

But she said something else that may be the key to tackling the problem. 

She announced Labour’s plan to scrap Ofsted, which, to many, is a huge stride in the right direction.

In the words of Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, Ofsted is largely to blame for the fact that five years of initiatives to cut workload “have come to nothing”.

She said: “Ministers know that teachers identify school accountability as the key driver of excessive workload.  Ministers know that, despite all their tinkering at the edges, and earnest words about reducing teacher workload, that nothing has happened and that teachers are working harder now than ever before. Ministers know that this situation is unsustainable.”

But even if Ofsted survives in the next government, Professor Jerrim seems to have got it right when he said: “We’d like to see much closer monitoring of teachers’ working hours, so that the impact of policy can be assessed as soon as possible.”

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