WorkloadDecember 11, 2014
Back in 2010 I wrote a blogpost entitled “The job that never ends” which attempted to calculate how many hours it would take to do every part of a full-time secondary teacher’s job according to the letter. I tried to avoid exaggerating, but I assumed no short-cuts and based it on what my managers told me they wanted to see. So I assumed lessons wouldn’t involve using one textbook for 60 minutes and would actually take time to plan, and that homework would have written feedback. I found that this added up to 60 hours of work a week, not including any time for eating, recovering from stress, extra-curricular activities or work that went beyond the normal legal requirements of the job. This seemed excessive, more than people could cope with for a career that might last several decades, and not something that seemed appropriate for those who needed to be in a suitable state of physical and mental health to make difficult decisions affecting dozens of young people at a time.
If anything, demands seem to have got worse since then. I didn’t include time for preparing for observations. Although complying with excessively rigorous marking policies were a major contributor to the 60 hour total, this was before the days when senior leaders would demand that work be marked in ways that would enable students and teachers to engage in an ongoing written dialogue. It didn’t assume that preparation would include learning new material to be taught as a result of curriculum changes. It didn’t include the, increasingly common, pressure to provide extra lessons after school for key exam groups. I’m now part-time and, as I get very close to 40, I cannot imagine having the energy to even try keeping up with the demands on full-time teachers, in some schools for a term, let alone two decades or more.
These demands take their toll on teachers in terms of stress at work, and as an obstacle to living a healthy and fulfilling life. A recent NUT survey found teachers reporting the following difficulties:
92% Negative impact on quality of my family or my personal life
81% No time for adequate exercise/physical activity
40% Often miss important personal commitments or family activities
59% Causing stress in my relationship
It makes teaching a less attractive career, and the same survey found that 87% of teachers knew a teacher who had left teaching in the last two years because of workload.
It also undermines us as autonomous professionals. If the workload is such that it is unlikely that any normal person can consistently do all the work to the letter, and that any extra task given to a teacher by their managers may prevent them from being able to cope with their job, then teachers have very little protection in the workplace. An unsupportive manager, who increases workload on those they manage, can cause almost any full-time teacher to be unable to do their job, removing any real job security for much of the profession. Moreover, where we have to struggle to complete our work at all, there is often very little opportunity to do it well. Getting the job done becomes the enemy of doing the job well and it is the children who lose out if their teachers are too stressed and overburdened to do their job as well as they’d like.
Workload is now becoming a political issue, with politicians promising to look into the problem. A DfE survey recently gave teachers a chance to describe their situation. However, identifying the problem and doing anything about it are very different. Reducing class sizes or hours spent teaching will cost money, money which politicians have seemed reluctant to pledge. Much of the workload is caused by the need to provide evidence about one’s teaching for the purpose of inspection or performance management. Without more sensible systems of accountability, again something that politicians have shown little interest in, workload will not be reduced. Even if politicians were to provide some of the resources and freedom needed to change the situation, it would still need to be monitored closely to ensure that the gains reach the frontline in the form of a workload reduction.
While I would encourage politicians to act, that cannot be all that we do to confront the problem. We also need to face it as a profession. That means a willingness to avoid overburdening our colleagues, particularly on the part of those with management responsibilities. It also requires a willingness to challenge excessive demands in the workplace, and the best way to do this will always be through effective work on the part of our trade unions in providing a voice for teachers in their places of work, supported by their members.