Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that teachers should not be expected to spend hours marking or responding to emails after 5pm is “delusional”, classroom leaders have claimed.
The education secretary suggested that schools and their staff should consider introducing policies to limit the amount of out of hours work, such as answering emails and marking.
But the teaching unions have issued furious responses, claiming her comments show a complete lack of understanding of the reasons for teachers’ excessive workloads.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Morgan said that although answering emails after 5pm was common in “all walks of life”, some schools were adopting methods to improve teachers’ work-life balance.
“The whole point is for me to listen to people and see what they recommend. I talk to schools that do manage to get the balance right.
“De Lisle College in my constituency [in Loughborough] – one of the things was about not sending emails after working hours because it is quite stressful if you’re at home or at the weekend and you’ve got people sending off emails,” Ms Morgan said.
She said one of the biggest contributing factors to teachers’ excessive workloads was the amount of marking they are expected to carry out on top of their teaching time.
“Marking is a big issue and we need to get to the bottom of it so students are getting effective feedback but teachers are not spending so long marking that they can’t do the bit of the job they are doing,” she added.
Last year, Ms Morgan instigated a survey of teachers, called the Workload Challenge, to find out many hours they worked. It garnered 44,000 responses.
The NUT’s deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said the Department for Education and the accountability system was to blame for teachers’ long hours.
“Schools cannot magic away the bureaucracy that is routinely dumped upon them and leads to enormous workload for all staff – some 55-60 hours per week by the government’s own measure,” Mr Courtney said.
“This is driving many teachers out of the profession and we now face a recruitment crisis. Nicky Morgan is naive and delusional to believe otherwise. She should address herself to the roots of the problem, which unquestionably lay at her door.”
The ATL teaching union agreed, adding that Ms Morgan had “entirely missed the point” when it comes to tackling teachers’ workloads.
“The Department for Education should get its head out of the sand and create a supportive accountability system that treats teachers as professionals, and allows them to get on with the job without having to cover their backs,” Anne Heavey, education policy adviser at the ATL, said.
“Suggesting that unnecessary workload can be prevented by sharing lesson plans and stopping marking after 5pm reflects how poorly Nicky Morgan understands the work that our teachers do.”
A DfE spokesperson said it was "a shame" the ATL and NUT were refusing to engage with the concerns their own members raised through the Workload Challenge. “Many schools are already looking at ways to cut workload in their schools including reducing the burden of marking and data collection and we want to encourage more to do the same," the spokesperson said. “But we recognise there is more work to do which is why we have set up three new working groups to look more closely at the key areas of concern and to suggest ways to help teachers focus on what really matters – ensuring children get the best education.”