Are you working 59 hours a week? 'Radical action' needed to tackle teachers' long working hours

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

One in four teachers work more than 59 hours a week and many work in the evenings and at weekends according to a study involving data from more than 40,000 teachers in England.

The University College London (UCL) research uses data collected between 1992 and 2017 and finds that the average working week of 47 hours has changed little over this period, although between 2013 and 2017 it has risen to 49 hours per week.

This average figure from 1992 to 2017 rises to 49 hours a week for secondary school teachers and peaks in the summer term at an average of 50 hours a week.

It is thought to be the first study to attempt to track the working hours of teachers over such a long period of time.

The research, which has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, finds that 40 per cent of teachers in England usually work in the evening, while 10 per cent usually work at the weekend. One in four teachers put in an average of 10.7 hours a day (more than 59 hours a week), while one in 10 work 65 hours per week.

A breakdown of the working day also reveals that many teachers work with very few breaks, often working through lunch or taking only short breaks to eat. The report states: “Lunch breaks are often short. For eight per cent of teachers they are less than 30 minutes long, while for 29 percent they are 30 to 44 minutes.”

Furthermore, full-time secondary teachers said they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning each week (20.1 hours) as they do teaching pupils (20.5 hours).

Teachers in England are also working longer hours than their counterparts in other developed nations – the average working week across the OECD countries being 41 hours.

Given that the high levels of working hours have remained largely stable between 1992 and 2017, the report warns that more radical action may be required to tackle the problem.

The report states: “Our findings show that five years of policy initiatives – implemented by three separate secretaries of state for education – have so far proven insufficient for achieving a reduction in the total number of hours worked by teachers.

“Reducing working hours to bring them into line with international norms will therefore likely require additional, more radical action on the part of policy-makers. Indeed, our research reveals that working hours have been at the present high levels for many years, which suggests perhaps that they will be more difficult to shift than previously anticipated.”

Department for Education (DfE) action on workload and working hours has included its Workload Challenge and the subsequent working group reports on issues such as marking, data, and lesson planning (see further information).

More recently, the DfE has published Teacher recruitment and retention strategy and Supporting early career teachers (January 2019) which include plans for the Early Career Framework to support new teachers.

Lead author of the report, Professor John Jerrim, added: “Successive secretaries of state for education have made big commitments to teachers about their working hours – how they are determined to reduce the burden of unnecessary tasks and how they will monitor hours robustly.

“Our data show just how difficult it is to reduce teacher workload and working hours. It is early days in terms of judging the effectiveness of the policies put forward over the past year. 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.

“Overall, bolder plans are needed by the government to show they are serious about reducing working hours for teachers and bringing them into line with other countries.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Earlier this year the government’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy (DfE, 2019) 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.

“Addressing teachers’ working hours is key to the improvement of both teaching quality and supply. Taking a wider view of the health of teachers over the past 25 years, the next phase of the project will help us to gain an even better understanding of the teacher workforce.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, 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.

“The most pressing issue is to reverse the cuts which have placed so much additional pressure on schools. The government has promised to increase the schools budget by £7.1 billion by 2022/23 (SecEd, 2019), but none of this additional money reaches schools until next year, and it will not be enough to undo the damage that has been done.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “This report shows conclusively that successive ministers for education have absolutely failed to improve teacher and school leaders’ workload and work-life balance, despite their warm words.

“Looking at the figures, it is no wonder that teacher retention rates have declined every year for a decade, leaving the UK with one of the least experienced workforces in the world. Only two thirds of the teachers who qualified in 2013 are still in service after 5 years. The current levels of workload in teaching are totally unsustainable.

“These figures must serve as a blunt warning for the government. Teachers are graduates who have many career choices open to them. They go into teaching with passion, because they care and want to make a difference, but we have to treat them well and respect their need for a work-life balance if we expect them to stay.”

And Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Sixty-hour working weeks are completely unacceptable, and it is one of the key reasons why one third of NQTs leave within five years. There is no reason to suppose this will change – in our most recent members’ poll, 40 per cent predicted they will no longer be in education by 2024.

“Government must face the fact that it is the culture of excessive accountability, brought on by the DfE 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.”

Further information

  • New evidence on teacher workload in England: An empirical analysis of four datasets (Allen, Benhenda, Jerrim & Sims) has been published by the UCL Institute of Education's Department of Quantitative Social Science (QSS). You can access the paper via http://johnjerrim.com/papers/
  • Teacher recruitment and retention strategy, DfE, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2Tphgiw
  • Supporting early career teachers (ECF), DfE, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2UpPaUL
  • The DfE’s workload reduction toolkit contains practical tools and materials to support school leaders (July 2018). Visit: www.gov.uk/guidance/reducing-workload-in-your-scho... & www.gov.uk/government/collections/workload-reducti...
  • In November 2018, the DfE’s Workload Advisory Group published Making Data Work, offering advice on managing data and workload in schools: http://bit.ly/2QGbZCd
  • The original DfE Workload Challenge Working Group Reports (March 2016) can still be downloaded: Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Marking: (http://bit.ly/20SOfJk); Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Planning and Teaching Resources (http://bit.ly/1r2C1S7); Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Associated with Data Management (http://bit.ly/1TXdDeU).
  • Funding pledge: We’re not out of the woods yet, SecEd, September 2019: http://bit.ly/2krpieO


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