Workload: This simply cannot carry on


An estimated 10 per cent of the profession has responded to the government’s ‘Workload Challenge’. Kevin Courtney is not surprised.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has closed her Workload Challenge survey of teachers; it is thought that around 10 per cent of the profession responded. This astonishing rate of return is no surprise – teacher workload has reached unacceptable levels, is destroying home lives and driving many out of the profession. Worse, much of the increased working time is spent on providing evidence and adding data to spreadsheets; it is the product of an accountability system gone badly wrong.

Our own survey in September saw 16,000 returns over a weekend. It revealed that 90 per cent of teachers had considered giving up teaching during the last two years alone because of workload; 87 per cent knew one or more colleagues who had given up during the last two years because of workload; and 96 per cent said workload had negative consequences for their family or personal life. 

These are shocking and sobering statistics – but the individual comments were heart-rending:

  • “I have been teaching for nearly 40 years and it has never been this bad before.”

  • “I have three young boys who I barely spend time with anymore. Just writing that sentence upset me deeply.”

  • “Data. Data. Data. No-one is interested in teachers and pupils anymore, just numbers on a piece of paper.”

  • “This is no life. I love teaching, but all I want to do is leave. I feel like a slave.”

This simply cannot go on – it can be no surprise that many teachers, both young and experienced, are planning to leave the profession. The demands of excessive accountability have reached absurd levels; not only time-consuming but undermining of teachers as professionals.

Teachers speak of having to take photographs of practical maths sessions to prove they were undertaken, of having to record all oral feedback given to students so schools can prove to Ofsted that teachers give oral feedback. This is a system with a profound lack of trust in teachers.

This accountability does not lead to exciting lessons for our children, but to a demoralised and exhausted workforce. 

If we want to maintain a world class education system there must be urgent change. The three steps below are cost-effective but will require brave politicians.

First, accountability must be reformed so it is based on trust, respectful professional dialogue and proportionality. High-performing jurisdictions give teachers “agency, moral purpose and autonomy”, and have accountability systems based on trust. However, such a system will not be achieved with Ofsted still in place. The time is surely right for us to find its replacement. It is fear of Ofsted that is driving most of the increased working hours.

Second, the introduction of performance-related pay has led to a significant increase in the demands for evidence, a reduction in trust and even further increase in working hours. A return to the national pay scale would save time and restore a level of fairness and openness.

Third, endless curriculum and SEN reforms are creating confusion and chaos. Time must now be created to cope with the implementation of these changes, and any future changes must have much longer lead-in times and be planned in consultation with teacher organisations, parents and business.

Our Stand up for Education campaign has been instrumental in ensuring politicians take the concerns of teachers and the education system seriously. Through our Manifesto for Education and the rest of our eight steps to reduce workload we will continue to press government to bring about real change.

  • Kevin Courtney is deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit


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