One in four teachers works more than 60 hours a week, despite repeated ministerial pledges to reduce workload, according to new research.
Research led by University College London (UCL) today shows that teachers work around 47 hours per week on average during term time, including marking, lesson planning and administration – and that there has been little change in this figure over time.
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the research looks at data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England collected between 1992 and 2017.
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Lead author Professor John Jerrim said “bolder plans” were needed to reduce teacher working hours and bring them into line with those of other countries.
He said: “This is the first study to attempt to track the working hours of teachers over such a long period of time.
Cutting teacher workload
“Successive secretaries of state for education have made big commitments to teachers about their working hours.
“Our data shows just how difficult it is to reduce teacher workload and working hours…We’d like to see much closer monitoring of teachers’ working hours, so that the impact of policy can be assessed as soon as possible.”
The research also shows that the average working week is nearer to 50 hours in the summer term.
Additionally, teachers in England work, on average, eight hours more a week compared with teachers in comparable industrialised Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. For example, in 2018, while the average full-time secondary teacher in England worked 49 hours per week, the OECD average was 41 hours. The equivalent figure for teachers in Finland was just 34 hours.
The study found that one in four teachers work more than 60 hours a week and that around 40 per cent of teachers in England usually work in the evening, while 10 per cent usually work at the weekend. Full-time secondary teachers also said they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning each week (20.1 hours) as they do actually teaching pupils (20.5 hours).
Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Earlier this year the government’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy acknowledged the teacher supply crisis in England. This research adds to our understanding of this crisis by confirming that teachers are working persistently long hours. This has been the case for over two decades, despite a succession of policy announcements during this period."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said that in a recent members’ poll, 40 per cent predicted they will no longer be in education by 2024.
He said: “The government must face the fact that it is the culture of excessive accountability, brought on by the Department for Education and Ofsted, which acts as the main driver of workload. Nor is it fair on children that teachers are so exhausted outside of contact time with paperwork that so rarely benefits pupils. For so long as these skewed priorities continue, schools will be in the grip of a culture of fear, over-regulation and a lack of trust. “
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Excessive teacher workload is a persistent problem because governments constantly raise the bar on what they expect schools to do. Various initiatives have been launched to reduce workload in recent years but schools have been swamped by changes to qualifications and testing, relentless pressure on performance and results, and funding cuts which have led to reductions in staffing and larger class sizes.
“To his credit, the previous education secretary, Damian Hinds, called a pause to further reforms, removed some of the government’s most onerous performance measures, and publicly joined with Ofsted and ASCL to tackle teacher workload. However, there is still a long way to go.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it had been “making concerted efforts” to reduce workload driven by unnecessary tasks, and that 94 per cent of surveyed school leaders said they had taken action to reduce workload related to marking while more than three-quarters said they had addressed planning workload."
The spokesperson added: “We will continue our work with the sector to drive down on these burdensome tasks outside the classroom so that teachers are free to do what they do best – teach.”