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Teachers 'electronically tethered' to school by overnight emails

Apps and emails create 'unreasonable expectation' teachers will always be available, says NASUWT

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Nearly half of teachers say work-related emails are significantly driving up their workload and invading their home life, a survey has found.

More than 1,500 teachers took part in the poll by the NASUWT teaching union.

Only 5 per cent of respondents did not receive work-related emails outside school hours, while 41 per cent received these ‘often’ during periods of sickness absence and 15 per cent ‘constantly’.

The survey, which was released at the union's annual conference in Belfast, also found:

  • 63 per cent of teachers often receive work-related emails during workday evenings;
  • 55 per cent often receive them in mornings before school;
  • 58 per cent often receive them at weekends;
  • 45 per cent often receive them during holidays.

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Email intrusion could continue into the small hours, with 14 per cent of teachers receiving emails at midnight, 12 per cent at 5am and 40 per cent at 6am.

One teacher said: “I took sixteen weeks off due to stress. Emails and phone calls from HR during this time exacerbated my illness to the point I had to tell them to cease and desist. Upon return to work I had 500 emails awaiting urgent response.”

Another wrote: “It is common for my head teacher to email after 5am and up to 1am.”

A third teacher said: “Last summer I was having a day out with my children.

"I checked my phone and had six missed calls from the head teacher asking for my opinion on an email which had been forwarded earlier in the morning.

"It ruined my day - this is the sort of impact it has.”

Most teachers said they felt obliged to respond even in their own time and 26 per cent said their email or online activity was monitored by their school.

Parents were to blame for some of the email deluge, with 14 per cent of respondents feeling an expectation to communicate electronically with parents in their own time every day, and 19 per cent several times a week.

The growing use of apps such as Class Dojo and social media by schools was also highlighted by many respondents as adding to workload burden on teachers to communicate with parents.

There was also a data protection issue, with 71 of teachers having had their email address made available to parents by their school, in 90 per cent of cases without permission.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Rather than helping teachers to work more efficiently, email abuse is instead electronically tethering them to their classrooms adding to their stress, anxiety and workload.

“For many teachers there is no escape from work. No respect or concern being shown for them even at some of the most difficult and distressing times in their lives such as bereavement or sickness.”

She said there was also “an unreasonable expectation” about teachers making themselves available at the convenience of parents driven by the use of classroom apps.

Ms Keates said: “[Education secretary] Damian Hinds has recently taken to wringing his hands in public about his concern for teacher workload, including the email culture pervading schools but what is he actually doing about it?

“He exhorts schools to free teachers from emails to work more in the classroom. He clearly has no concept of either the scale or the nature of the problem. It’s home invasion by email which is the problem.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The education secretary has set out his determination to support school leaders in reducing teacher workload and we have taken a range of actions to do this.

"Our recruitment and retention strategy also sets out how we will help headteachers establish supportive school cultures.

“We have worked with school leaders and teachers to create a workload reduction toolkit, which provides materials to help leaders and teachers review tasks associated with communications in schools, including an example school email protocol.

“As well as this, we have recently published the EdTech strategy which challenges the sector to support flexible working practices within schools including minimising the need for emails.”

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