Teaching time way above average in Scotland – report

International analysis finds secondary teachers in Scotland spend far more time teaching than those in other countries

Teaching time way above average in Scotland – report

A new report has found that the amount of time teachers spend teaching in Scotland is far above the average level internationally.

The Education at a Glance 2019 report, published today by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), finds that Scotland is an exception to the norm in that teachers spend more than half their time teaching.

It states: “Only teachers in Chile, Israel, Latvia, Scotland…and Spain spend at least 50 per cent of their statutory working time teaching.”


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The report also finds that, at the lower-secondary level, teachers spend 43 per cent of their working time on teaching on average across 24 countries analysed. However, that ranges from 35 per cent or less in Austria, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Poland and Turkey, to 63 per cent in Scotland.

The report underlines that Scotland is not typical: “Even if teaching is a core activity of teachers, in a large number of countries, they spend most of their working time on activities other than teaching.”

The report also finds Scotland bucking the international trend that teachers generally spend less time teaching when they work with older students.

It states: “Teaching time tends to decrease as the level of education increases. In most countries, statutory teaching time at the pre-primary level is more than at the upper secondary level…The exceptions are Chile and Scotland…where the time teachers are required to teach is the same at all levels of education, and Colombia, Costa Rica, Lithuania and Mexico, where upper secondary school teachers are required to teach more hours than pre-primary school teachers.”

In countries such as Austria, France, South Korea, Portugal and Turkey, primary school teachers have at least 25 per cent more annual teaching time than lower -secondary school teachers. But there is “no difference” in Scotland, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia and Slovenia.

However, net teaching time dropped between 2000 and 2018 in a few countries (not all countries had data covering that time span), including Scotland – although that was from a high base. In Scotland, teaching time at primary level fell by 95 hours from 2000 to 2018, thanks to what is commonly known as the McCrone deal.

Today’s report report states that, in Scotland, “the reduction in teaching time for primary teachers was part of the teachers’ agreement, A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, which introduced a 35-hour working week for all teachers and a phased reduction of maximum teaching time to 22.5 hours per week for primary, secondary and special school teachers in 2001”.

It adds: “However, even with this decrease in net contact time, the maximum time teachers at these levels in Scotland…can be required to teach is still longer than the OECD average.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: “These international comparisons confirm, once again, that Scotland’s teachers work some of the longest hours of any OECD country with a very high percentage of time spent in front of the class.

"This high-class commitment squeezes the time available for the type of professional dialogue that makes a difference in terms of raising attainment, particularly for pupils disadvantaged by poverty, and of course it is a major driver of excessive workload.”

The union is campaigning heavily against teacher workload this year, and Mr Flanagan said: “ A reduction in the class-contact commitment for all teachers would be a vital step in reducing workload to a more manageable level, while protecting the high quality of educational experience for young people in our schools.”

A Scottish government spokesman said:  “While teaching time in Scotland is above average, contractual working time is lower than the OECD average across all education levels.  

“In addition, we have undertaken a range of actions to reduce teacher workload, acting to clarify and simplify the curriculum framework and to remove unnecessary bureaucracy while creating new opportunities for teachers to develop their careers."

He added: "Our recently agreed teachers’ pay deal – which delivers a 13 per cent rise over three years – provides a shared agenda with employers and teacher unions on addressing workload, additional support for learning and empowering schools for the next two years.”

Today’s OECD report also considers issues around pay in Scotland, but uses data from 2017 and therefore does not take into consideration the recent pay deal.

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