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On the map - Teaching time - Not enough hours in the day

There is a wide range in the time teachers spend teaching at upper secondary (14-plus) level, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The net teaching time in Denmark is 364 hours a year, compared with 1,051 for similar teachers in the US. Quite why teachers in Denmark spend only about nine hours a week on instruction, compared with over 25 a week in the US, is not immediately clear. But the amount of teaching time in Denmark appears to have been cut between 1996 and 2008 by some 200 hours a year, whereas in Spain the recorded hours increased from 630 to 693 during the same period.

Most upper secondary teachers in the countries shown on our map spend somewhere in the region of 700-850 hours in the classroom per year. Based on a 40-week year that would be between 17.5 and 21 hours per week.

There is a similar wide gulf in the percentage of the working week that is spent on instructional tasks.

In Denmark this now appears to be only 22 per cent of the week compared with 100 per cent in Ireland, 66 per cent in Australia and 63 per cent in Scotland. In England, the figure is 57 per cent of the working week, based on a 1,265-hour working year for most of the teaching force.

The smaller the amount of time spent on direct instruction, the greater the time in the working week available for planning, assessment, administrative tasks - if they form part of a teacher's workload - and one-to-one meetings with pupils for instructional or other reasons such as career counselling or advice on higher education. There may also be time set aside for professional development and working with other teachers in what is, as every teacher knows, a complex and multi-faceted job where the instructional task is always but the tip of the iceberg.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education

Percentage of statutory working time spent teaching (2008, age 14+)

Ireland 100%

Denmark 22%

Japan 26%

Norway 31%

South Korea 36%

Germany 40%

Spain 49%

US 53%

England 57%

Scotland 63%

Australia 66%

Net teaching time in hours

Denmark 364

Japan 500

Norway 523

South Korea 604

Spain 693

Germany 715

England 722

Ireland 735

Australia 810

Scotland 855

US 1,051.

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