The teaching union conferences are key events. They provide opportunities to talk to real teachers about the real issues they are facing in the classroom.
We do, of course, have data that can tell us what teachers are struggling with on a day-to-day basis, but there is no substitute for listening to people’s stories. It helps us bring the data to life.
This year, as in previous years, workload stood out as one of the main difficulties facing teachers. The data bears this out. One in five UK workers admit that they regularly work more than their contracted hours, according to the Labour Force Survey and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2012. And 52 per cent education professionals work an extra 11 unpaid hours a week on average. It is estimated that the value of this unpaid overtime is £5,626 per worker.
Our own data shows a similar story. In February, there were 33 cases where teachers and their further and higher education counterparts contacted our support lines with the presenting issue: “Ability to say no.” This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that there have been 36 cases in total this year, you begin to see the scale of the issue.
This leads to the inevitable questions: why February? Why are so many people calling at this one time? Are teachers struggling to decline requests of additional work as the term progresses? Are they preparing themselves for the onslaught of report or exam season? Have they just had enough? Again, we are looking to bring the statistics to life. This is where the real stories come in.
“I leave the house at 6:30am and return around 6pm, have dinner and mark or prepare lessons until 11pm; I roll into bed at midnight (…) the job is killing me,” one teacher told us recently.
“Four subjects, 18 classes, 22 teaching lessons a week, before the normal meetings/parents’ evenings/reports etc come around. Impossible to have any sort of life – I’ve had to bring 17 books home to mark over Easter,” explained another.
There are many, many more accounts like this, and I would speculate that many of the teachers reading this will identify with these sentiments. So what can be done?
The teaching unions are fighting with employers and the government to protect teachers from excessive workloads. It is a big issue and is only likely to get bigger as the debate around teachers doing more with less, working until 68, academisation and loss of facility time continues.
Yet looking behind the data, for some teachers, tackling workload is not as straightforward as it seems. The counsellors on our support line tell us that teachers who call in often have extremely strong work ethics. Many of them feel guilty about reducing their workloads and uncomfortable taking time off when everyone – their friends and colleagues – are “in the same boat”. Similarly, there is a fear that reducing their workload means abandoning their pupils or students. It is a complex issue.
So, what can individual teachers do to manage their own workload. Here are our top tips:
Talk to your union. Know what is expected of you and your employer, and what is acceptable for you in your situation.
Assess your current work pattern. Write a diary of your activities at school, listing everything you do and how much time you spend on each thing. Analyse the results and look to see what you could do differently or change to help save time.
Write down clear time-management goals – “I will finish no later than 6pm on weekdays and take one day off each weekend”. By writing goals down, you are more likely to stick to them.
Look after yourself. Sit back, breathe and exercise. Remember this is just a job and not your whole life.
Focus on what you can make a difference to. Sometimes it is necessary, and reasonable, to say no or ask for support.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).