The Teacher’s Workload Diary Survey, conducted by the Department for Education in 2010, revealed that the average secondary school teacher worked about 50 hours a week. Sounds about right to me. In the years that have followed there has been much debate around the subject and we have even seen the government dutifully quizzing us to improve what seems to be a systemic issue.
However, it has struck me recently that we might be approaching this issue from completely the wrong direction. Perhaps the issue isn’t workload at all. Perhaps it’s something else.
I’m quite content with my workload. I like challenge, pressure and high stakes and I’m happy to devote myself to my work at this point in my life. I know many teachers who are married with children who share that mindset and yet are still willing to pull out the stops for young people. In order to produce exceptional outcomes and opportunities for young people, one has to make sacrifices for the greater good.
The fact is that nobody is being forced to stay in teaching, there are plenty of jobs at the same pay scale that requires less emotional and physical investment. If one is perpetually complaining about workload, I would be concerned about the impact their negativity is having on the young people.
To go further: heavy workloads are not going away. Dare I say it: in order to be the best teacher/leader, you have to work really hard – and that’s just for the items on the job description. Teachers can’t have an off day. We have to be on form every lesson, every day. Does that expectation exist in many other places?
Many teachers add further value to a young person’s education through organising trips, bringing in guest speakers and setting up after-school clubs. They also conduct data analysis in a meaningful way, track student progress often, plan amazing lessons that inspire young people and never have an off-day.
But I don’t think we’re working too hard: I don’t think we’re paid enough for the work that we do.
My friends who work in the City work the same hours as me, earn at least twice as much. They work very hard and deal with the bureaucratic nonsense that comes with the job but they get paid much more to deal with their woes and their anxiety (often with free private healthcare). And do not have the emotional-guilt-association with achieving results for young people.
Another justification for this stems from the challenges being faced by the recruitment and selection of teachers. If the government wants to address the recruitment crisis (especially from graduates), they need to be able to compete on salary with the other large graduate recruiters. Now, if Schools Direct or Teach First can’t match the salary of the Big Four accounting firms, the civil service, Google or construction firm Wates, to pick a random selection, then this issue will be perpetual.
The process of becoming a teacher should be more lucrative and justify our responsibilities and hard work.
No longer would (most) teachers complain about workload, as their pay and conditions would sever the pervasive acrimony that they would have about the profession and sometimes menial duties (which exist in all professions).
One could even agree that to an expectation that the cash would come in return for making teachers even more accountable to outcomes (though I’m not sure how much more that could be), and that they must upskill themselves and invest time in their professional development.
As we look forward to 2016, I’d like the policy narrative to be centred around pragmatic resolutions to improve the recruitment, selection and training process of teachers and a discussion on how to pay the best teachers more – either directly through salaries or fringe benefits.
What I know is that workload isn’t going away: it’s necessary, in different formats, to produce brilliant outcomes. We need to be compensated for it – and for our passion and commitment.
Oliver Beach is a former star of Tough Young Teachers. @olivermbeach