Three hours' sleep and surviving on Diet Coke – one teacher’s 'unbearable' workload

Teacher speaks out at union conference about ‘repeatedly and unnecessarily’ having to assess her pupils

Dave Speck

Dave Speck

Sleepless teacher

A Year 6 teacher has spoken out about the burden of her workload and the knock-on effect on her sleep and mental health.

Speaking to journalists at the NEU teaching union’s annual conference in Liverpool, Helen Reeder was among teachers helping to promote new research that shows workload is “out of control and driving people out of the profession”.

Ms Reeder, who is the English manager and on the senior leadership team at her school, said her workload was at times “unbearable.”


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She said: “I found myself, after teaching all week, working on a Friday night, sitting at my kitchen table marking 30 assessments.

“The main bulk of my workload is having to prove where children are at and having to assess them repeatedly and unnecessarily.”

The research, of more than 8,000 teachers, senior leaders and support staff in schools across the UK, found that 40 per cent of respondents said they would no longer be working in education in five years’ time, while almost one-fifth expect to be gone within two years.

A total of 62 per cent gave workload as the main reason, while 40 per cent said it was the “accountability regime”.

Ms Reeder added: “Some nights I’ll have three hours' sleep. I lie there worrying what I’m going to teach the next day, and thinking about the moderation meetings that I’m going to have, and I’m thinking about conversations I’m going to have the next day with staff and parents and difficult children.

“It’s a job you can’t switch off from. Your mind is constantly thinking about the next thing you have to do. I live my life by list. I’ve worked way too many hours already these Easter holidays.”

Ms Reeder said she drinks Diet Coke to keep her going throughout the day, adding: “My mental health is not what it was. Not having much sleep doesn’t affect my teaching but it doesn’t enhance it either.”

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