Most people accept that teachers have to grapple with a heavy workload, but it is often claimed this is more than compensated by the long school holidays they enjoy.
However, research has now been published which may finally put this idea to rest.
A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that the long hours worked by teachers during term time “substantially exceeds” the extra time they get off work during school holidays.
The NFER compared teaching to policing and nursing. Using survey data from 2015-16, it found that teachers worked longer hours than these professions – even factoring in school holidays.
Average weekly workload
“It is often said that because teachers get longer holidays than other professions, this makes up for the hours they work during term time,” the NFER’s report states.
It continues: “However, it is the case that the hours that teachers work during term time substantially exceeds the amount of extra holiday time they may receive, even if they do not work during the holidays.
“We find that full-time teachers work the equivalent of 45 hours per week if spread across the number of weeks worked by full-time nurses and police officers annually, which is more than both of these professions.”
The average weekly working hours of police officers and nurses (including overtime hours) is 44 hours and 39 hours per week respectively.
During term time, teachers work significantly longer hours than their public sector peers, with a full-time teacher working 50 hours per week on average.
Commenting on the findings, Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “Despite popular belief, the long hours that teachers work during term time substantially exceed the amount of extra holiday time they may receive.
“Unfortunately many are finding the balance unworkable, and more and more great educators are simply tapping out.”
According to the NFER’s research, the total annual working hours of teachers has risen since 2009-10, while working hours for police officers and nurses have fallen.
The report states: “In 2009-10, police officers worked a lot more hours annually, but teacher working hours have been increasing since then, while police officer working hours have decreased slightly over the same period.”
Another difference between teaching and the other two professions is in the treatment of overtime.
Nurses and police officers may be paid for overtime worked – although not all of this is paid. Police officers report being paid for nearly two-thirds of the overtime they work, while nurses report that 42 per cent of the overtime hours they work are paid for.
However, there is no provision for teachers to receive any overtime money. The 2017 school teachers’ pay and conditions document simply says they must work “such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of their professional duties”.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, welcomed the report but said the findings may be "too cheerful" as it is based on data that is nearly three years old.
He said: “Teacher workload is unbearably high, it is driving the teacher recruitment crisis and leading to unnecessary stress and in many cases an unacceptable work-life balance.
"Teachers are used to spending time outside of school preparing exciting lessons, but are now spending unbearably long hours on tasks to satisfy the government’s obsession with data collection. This is driving many to despair."
'Retention can be difficult'
The working hours quoted in the report are shorter than those in the Department for Education’s more recent workload survey, which shows teachers in England work an average of 54 hours a week and school leaders work in excess of 60, said Mr Courtney.
"Our own data on attitudes is also completely contrary to the [NFER's finding] that ‘despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes’," he added.
A DfE spokeswoman said that teaching "continues to be an attractive profession". "More teachers are joining the profession and retention rates have been broadly stable for the past 20 years," she said.
She added: “We recognise that recruitment and retention can be difficult so we will continue to invest in the sector to help attract the best and brightest into teaching."