The challenge facing education secretary Nicky Morgan after she pledged to tackle excessive teacher workload and stress has been laid bare by campaigners this week.
Addressing the Conservative Party Conference last week, Ms Morgan acknowledged the long hours that teachers are working and the pressures they face on the job, including with inspection preparation, marking and lesson planning.
She pledged to “work with the profession over the coming months to find solutions”, including meeting with the education unions and going into schools to talk to teachers.
She said her aim was a “new deal” for teachers that “treats them as the professionals they are”.
Ms Morgan added: “There must be a better way. I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well. So I have set two priorities –?first, to do everything I can to reduce the overall burden on teachers. And second, to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching.”
The comments were broadly welcomed by education unions and charities, although the secretary of state has been warned about the size of the task ahead of her.
The Teacher Support Network said it received more than 6,000 calls to its helpline in the last year from teachers suffering common mental health problems including stress, anxiety and depression.
Chief executive Julian Stanley said the problems were often the result of heavy workloads.
He added: “Workload and work-related stress is a significant cause for concern for many teachers. We know that many teachers struggle to maintain a healthy work/life balance, often sacrificing their lunch breaks, evenings and much of their weekends to lesson planning and marking.
“This can all lead to teacher burnout and prolonged staff absence which has a knock-on effect on students’ learning and for other staff who are forced to pick up the slack. The government cannot ignore the reality that unsustainable workloads are having an impact on education standards and student outcomes.”
Meanwhile, in the run-up to Ms Morgan’s speech, the National Union of Teachers issued the results of its own workload survey, which questioned 16,379 teachers.
It found that 90 per cent have considered giving up teaching during the past two years because of workload, 87 per cent know someone who has left teaching for this reason, and that 96.5 per cent said workload was having a negative effect on their personal lives.
General secretary Christine Blower said that much teacher workload was “completely unnecessary and a result of accountability measures driven by Ofsted”.
She added: “Nicky Morgan recognised in her comments that an exhausted, dispirited teacher is not what children or parents want or deserve. Over the next few weeks we will see what action (she) is prepared to take to bring about very significant change.”
The National Association of Head Teachers urged Ms Morgan to start by focusing on “unnecessary marking and Ofsted ‘compliance’ activities”.
The NASUWT also referred to the results of its own workload survey of 12,000 teachers, which found that 80 per cent had experienced more stress in the last year, 80 per cent felt their job has a negative impact on their wellbeing, and that workload was the main concern for 84 per cent of the teachers.
General secretary Chris Keates said: “Teachers will welcome the recognition that their professional lives are blighted by excessive workload. They will welcome the secretary of state’s commitment to address this. But tackling workload effectively will require the secretary of state to recognise the contribution of this government’s policies to the current excessive workload burdens.”
Resilience and careers
The building of character and resilience, and an emphasis on developing careers guidance services were two further focuses within Ms Morgan’s address.
Having just announced a new £5 million fund to support, innovative ideas to help schools and young people develop character, resilience and grit, Ms Morgan attacked what she called the “false choice” between academic standards and activities that build character.
She said: “The two should go hand-in-hand. As much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job, and to be able to bounce back if things don’t work out.”
On careers guidance, Ms Morgan said it had been “overlooked for too long” and was “essential”. She added: “Let’s make work experience something of value. Something that opens people’s eyes to the possibilities of the world of work. Something that helps them aspire to more. And let’s get businesses working closely with schools to help children make the right choices at the right time.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed that resilience was a key skill for today’s school-leavers, but warned that the current accountability culture was preventing schools from tackling this agenda.
He said: “School-leavers need to be resilient, determined, creative, able to solve complex problems and communicate confidently. However, the space to develop these traits has been squeezed by an out of kilter accountability culture.
“It will not be achieved by bolt-on curriculum solutions or yet more inspection. Accountability measures need to be slimmer and smarter in order to give schools the flexibility to develop these characteristics in children.”