One of the real privileges of my role in government is getting out of Westminster and visiting schools across the country – something I have done 104 times since becoming education secretary.
And what strikes me each and every time I walk into a school is the dedication, talent and enthusiasm of the teachers I meet, who do so much to inspire our young people.
Which is why, for Thank a Teacher Day, the celebrations for every single one of the 450,000 teachers will be richly deserved.
Another reason I value these school visits is because I get to hear for myself what really matters to teachers. They are never shy about letting me know the challenges they face and the pressures they are under.
And, as we move towards the next spending review, I can promise every teacher working tirelessly in their school today that I will be backing heads and school leaders to have the resources they need to continue to deliver a world-class education.
Teachers work too many hours
Today sees the publication of the results from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis). This comes out every five years and is a barometer of what teachers from up to 48 different countries across the world think about their jobs.
In spring last year, around the time I became education secretary, more than 4,000 teachers from around 300 schools in England were asked about a variety of issues relating to their job. This included: what they thought about professional development; teaching beliefs and practices; recognition for individual work and other management and workplace issues.
And, seeing the results today, I find it pleasing that the vast majority of teachers and heads participate in a range of professional development opportunities.
However, other areas come as no surprise to me, as it is clear that what teachers told the researchers a year ago reflects many of the frustrations that I was hearing from them when I first became education secretary: specifically that teachers work too many hours, with too much time spent on non-teaching tasks.
I have written before in Tes about my year-long battle with workload, and how I have sought to pull every lever at my disposal to ease the pressures that many teachers face in this respect, telling everyone who will listen that we should not accept the fact that teachers work longer hours per week than almost all other countries involved in Talis, not on teaching, but on planning, marking and admin, including data.
And now that the findings of the survey have been published, I want to make it absolutely clear that I remain as opposed to our teachers facing unnecessary workload as I always have been.
I want to see a culture in every school where it’s not just the pupils who flourish, it’s the teachers, too. A school should be a great place for pupils to learn because it’s a great place for teachers to teach.
And I know that we are already moving in the right direction – from publishing the workload-reduction toolkit last July, which many schools are now using to great effect, to working with Ofsted to ensure staff workload is considered as part of a school’s inspection judgement.
We know that 96 per cent of school leaders have reported that they are taking action on reducing the number of hours spent on unnecessary tasks, which I know infuriate teachers and school leaders so much. And the materials of the workload-reduction toolkit have been downloaded more than 150,000 times and counting.
We are also seeing too many teachers leaving the profession, or not returning after a break, because they cannot get a job with the flexibility they need. The numbers on this are quite striking – only 28 per cent of female teachers worked part-time in 2017, compared with 40 per cent of female employees in the wider economy.
I am encouraging schools to do more to scale up flexible work, in order to boost recruitment and retention. The responsibility for this more adaptable culture lies primarily with the school, and we are taking steps to help make it more achievable.
Earlier this month, we launched a competition for edtech providers to show how technology can improve workforce flexibility and timetabling for those who wish to work more flexibly. There is also an important role for job-sharing, which is why at DfE we’re working on a service that allows you to find a job-share partner. It’s a sort of match.com for job shares.
Recruiting and retaining teachers is about giving them the best start, allowing them the flexibility to manage their jobs with other commitments, and making sure they have the opportunity to develop throughout their careers.
The Early Career Framework, launched back in January, is the focal point for putting these foundations in place, and will transform the support available to those starting out their careers in teaching.
These are just a couple of the measures we are taking to make sure that teaching is a profession that is sustainable, and where those who are called to it continue to love what they do.
And this is just the start – we hope to see continued progress as the changes we have made take hold, and as we consider what more we can do to address the pressures faced by school leaders.
Teaching isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation, and all of us owe those who are called to it a great debt of gratitude. So, on behalf of us all, I would like to thank each and every teacher. I would not be where I am without you, and neither would the rest of us.
Damian Hinds is the secretary of state for education