The long-hours culture in England’s schools is taking its toll on teachers’ mental and physical health
With each report of falling ITT recruitment and plummeting levels of wellbeing, the argument for a contractual limit on teachers’ working hours becomes ever stronger.
There is an abundance of evidence that teachers are undertaking additional responsibilities unpaid, without the protection of a limit on directed time and in the context of an anachronistic and abusive open-ended contract which means that teachers’ workloads and working hours operate without limit.
Our Big Question Survey 2022 found that workloads had increased for nine out of ten teachers in the previous year and that in a typical mid-term week full-time teachers reported that they were working an average of 57 hours.
They reported that they were spending much more time on pastoral care, administrative and clerical tasks, and data and assessment requirements than in previous years and that these excessive hours are taking their toll.
Eighty-four per cent said that that their job had adversely affected their mental health in the last year, with more than half of respondents citing workload as the main cause.
We have launched our 2023 Big Question Survey and it is hard to imagine that the workload figures this year will be any better.
Just as teachers and headteachers dealt with the impact of the Covid pandemic and the increased demands this was placing on them, the profession is still struggling with ever-increasing workload demands and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
No teacher should expect to be subject to levels of workload pressure that will make them ill or force them out of a job they love.
The profession is seeing increased demands to support children and families struggling to keep the lights on and to put food on the table. Schools are struggling with budgets that have not kept pace with rising costs while teachers and headteachers are being left to pick up the pieces of the Government’s failure to provide the levels of funding that schools and wider children’s services desperately need, despite the additional £2 billion per year announced by the Chancellor last autumn.
When calculated by the actual number of hours worked each week, teacher salaries are even more uncompetitive compared to other graduate professions. Unlike other occupations, teachers are denied paid overtime and access to the forms of flexible working entitlements that many other workers benefit from.
The failure of governments and employers to take effective action to reduce teacher workload and enforce contractual limits on working time, coupled with the erosion of teachers’ salaries since 2010, is making the job unattractive and impossible. Even measures such as the Government’s Education Staff Wellbeing Charter and School Workload Reduction Toolkit have not delivered for the profession.
It is time for a contractual, enforceable limit on working hours to ensure that every teacher and headteacher can enjoy a life outside work.
That can only be achieved by a remodelled teacher’s contract that provides clear working time rights and entitlements within the framework of a maximum 35-hour working week.
The job of teaching has always been demanding, but governments and administrations have a responsibility to intervene and schools have a duty to take action to tackle excessive workload and to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of their staff.
We should insist on working conditions that let teachers teach, securing progress with employers that value their workforce. Our Workload Checklist is already empowering teachers collectively to address concerns about workload and transform their conditions at work.
Every teacher should be afforded the right to a proper work/life balance that also protects their mental and physical health.
Teachers deserve a Better Deal, which must include a contractual entitlement to a limit on their workload and working hours.
Author: Dr Patrick Roach