Almost half of teachers expect to spend two weeks or more on school work during the summer break, according to an exclusive YouGov poll for TES.
As the vast majority of schools break up this week, the survey reveals that 44 per cent of teachers will spend at least 10 days – the equivalent of two working weeks, a third of their summer holiday – on school-related work.
And new teachers will give up even more of their break. A third (33 per cent) of those in their first year of teaching expect to work for at least three weeks this summer, compared with 23 per cent of all teachers.
Teaching unions say that the rising summer workload is linked to high-stakes accountability and the introduction of major curriculum reform, especially at secondary schools, where new GCSEs and A levels in 20 subjects will be taught from September.
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, told TES: “I think [teachers’ summer workload] is increasing year-on-year as the accountability is cranking up. It has never been as many hours as now.”
He said the heavy workload for new teachers over the summer was “such a poor introduction to the profession,” adding, “it’s no wonder that there are so many that leave the profession so early”.
The YouGov poll of a representative sample of 836 teachers in England and Wales found that women expected to work longer hours this summer than their male counterparts.
Of the female teachers, 46 per cent said that they would work for two weeks or more, compared with 39 per cent of men.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said that although it had always been common for teachers to do some work over the summer holiday, the workload revealed by the polls showed that teachers were now under growing pressure.
“The difference is that teachers aren’t making a professional choice [to work during the summer break], but more and more work has been piling up and they’ve not been given time to do it during the school term,” she said. “They feel they’re being forced into these long hours.
“Given that we know there are serious issues about teachers’ health, particularly their mental health, the fact that there’s now this intensity during what should be the break to refresh and renew is extremely worrying.”
Leaders ‘must ease burden’
Ms Keates said school leaders should tell their teachers there is “no expectation” that they will work over the summer break.
The poll comes four months after the Department for Education published three reports aimed at reducing teachers’ workload.
Union leaders say schools minister Nick Gibb appears committed to tackling workload, but they are frustrated that the government has not put the three reports – which contain a series of measures to cut workload in marking, data management, planning and resources – on a statutory footing, a move that would force schools to have regard for them.
“We said [to Mr Gibb] the obvious way [to make schools take notice of the reports] is to make it statutory guidance,” Ms Keates said. “He was very keen to listen to any suggestions we had, but he said that was not the route he would go down.”
Mr Courtney echoed her concerns, saying: “We will work with the guidance but we are sceptical about whether or not it will work, as [the government is] not directive enough [with headteachers].”
Today’s survey findings on summer working are a sign that the reports have as yet had little impact, according to Nansi Ellis, the ATL teaching union’s assistant general secretary and a member of the review group behind one of the three workload reports.
“I am not sure that teachers have seen a difference yet [as a result of the workload review groups],” she said. “Schools may not know that much about them yet.”
The NUT, which staged a one-day strike this month over funding, workload and the deregulation of teachers’ pay and conditions, is considering taking more action at the start of the autumn term.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know that unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for teachers and we are doing more than ever to help tackle this issue, whether it is during school time or out of hours.”
The new teacher workload reports “should empower teachers to challenge unproductive practice and provide an excellent opportunity to reassess and streamline the way they work”, the spokesperson said.
“We will continue to engage with teachers and leaders to remove any unnecessary workload so that they can focus on what really matters – inspiring pupils to go on and achieve their full potential.”
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How to manage your workload this summer
The charity Education Support Partnership has offered these tips to help teachers manage their workload over the summer:
Try to make sure you prioritise carefully and talk to your line manager about what is really genuinely important. If you can’t do all that is being asked of you they should be able to provide some support.
Limit the days and times you commit to working over the summer and stick to this. Don’t let the work spread across your summer more than it must and, if you can, consider the time you spend as an investment in making next term run as smoothly as possible.
Don’t over-commit yourself – teachers are conscientious and it is tempting to always say “yes” to everything that is asked of you.
Try to make sure your teaching planning and practice are enjoyable for yourself and your students. Include the stories you want to tell and include activities you want to do, too.
Don’t be afraid to politely decline overtime or holiday working if you have an important family event or holiday planned. It’s your life and your career, and you are entitled to plan it the way that works for you.
For help from the charity, contact 08000 562 561 (UK-wide) or email email@example.com
‘I try to protect my time off just to stay sane’
Kiri Tunks, a humanities teacher at a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, East London, said she was going to be “strict” with herself this summer by making sure she doesn’t work for more than two weeks during the six-week break.
“I really try to put a line around some time off, just to keep sane,” she said. “To do the job well for a sustained period of time, you need time for yourself and your family.
“That makes me a better practitioner in the classroom because I’m not tired, grumpy, stressed and taking time off sick. For people who work too hard, that’s what it adds up to.”
But she said that a combination of exam and curriculum reforms and high-stakes accountability were making this approach more difficult. “Very few teachers will be ready for September [when new GCSEs and A levels are introduced in 20 subjects]. They’ll be ending this term thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing from September.’ So there’s no choice; they will have to spend some time over the summer working on it.”