A quarter of teachers in England work more than 60 hours a week, far in excess of their counterparts elsewhere in the world, research reveals.
The study by the UCL Institute of Education said that five years of government initiatives to reduce excessive workload, introduced by three different education secretaries, have done nothing to cut the total number of hours worked by teachers which have remained high for two decades.
Researchers found that teachers in England work 47 hours a week on average during term time, including marking, lesson planning and administration, going up to about 50 hours in the summer during the exam season.
That is eight hours more than teachers in comparable industrialised OECD countries, though the disparity with some countries is even greater. While the average full-time secondary school teacher in England in 2018 worked 49 hours per week, the equivalent teacher in Finland clocked up 34 hours.
The study revealed that two out of five teachers in England usually work in the evening and one in 10 at the weekend. Full-time secondary teachers report they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning (20.1 hours a week) as they do teaching (20.5 hours).
The findings are based on data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England collected between 1992 and 2017. The lead author, Prof John Jerrim said: “This is the first study to attempt to track the working hours of teachers over such a long period of time.
“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.”
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has already spoken about the need to address teachers’ workload, while his predecessor Damian Hinds promised to “strip away” workload that did not add value and called on teachers to “ditch the email culture” and embrace AI to help to reduce their workload.
Jerrim said: “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.”
Teaching unions accused ministers of doing more to drive teachers out of the profession than to retain them. “Excessive teacher workload is a persistent problem because governments constantly raise the bar on what they expect schools to do,” said Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.
“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 National Education Union, which represents more than 450,000 teachers in the UK, said excessive workload was one of the key reasons why a third of newly qualified teachers quit English classrooms within five years. “There is no reason to suppose this will change. In our most recent members’ poll, 40% predicted they will no longer be in education by 2024,” said Kevin Courtney, its joint general secretary.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As today’s report shows, the number of hours teachers work has remained broadly unchanged over the last 25 years. We have, however, been making concerted efforts to reduce workload driven by unnecessary tasks – 94% of surveyed school leaders report they have taken action to reduce workload related to marking and more than three-quarters say they have addressed planning workload.”
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