The latest report from the Education Policy Institute has provided yet more headlines – and further statistics - about the long working hours of England’s teachers, particularly the amount of time spent on non-teaching tasks. The Report provides useful confirmation of the now established fact that workload is driving teachers out of the profession. However, I do not believe that some of the conclusions that have been mooted in the press following its release – notably that multi-academy trusts or larger class sizes might provide a solution to teacher workload – are justified by the statistical evidence reported.
The evidence has been taken from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), which gathered responses from over 100,000 secondary school teachers in 36 different jurisdictions internationally. That’s a sizeable sample, although it’s worth noting that the results for England are based on a relatively small sample of 2,496 Key Stage 3 classroom teachers “from 154 schools, academies and maintained schools of the various types, and a small number of independent schools”.
As the Report’s Appendix on Methodology itself states “the noise inherent in a snapshot of one week's hours, some small clusters of teachers, and a low number of schools sampled relative to the heterogeneity in secondary school teachers” means that some of the Report’s attempts to draw correlations between working hours and various school and teacher types cannot be entirely reliable. In some cases, for example when looking at the link between workload and the experience of their headteacher, then the Report itself agrees there is no clear correlation. There are also some significant differences between the figures given for the total hours worked and the sum of the times listed for the different activities separately – a “measurement error” acknowledged in the report.
Even with that statistical caution noted, the analysis carried out by Peter Sullen, a former Head of the Teachers and Teaching Analysis Team at the DfE, nevertheless clearly confirms the poor pay and working conditions of teachers in England compared to most other developed countries. Here are some key findings:
Overall Working Hours – England has some of the longest hours in the world
Full time teachers in England reported working, on average, 48.2 hours a week, compared to the average elsewhere of 40.6 hours. A fifth of teachers reported working 60 hours or more.
Only teachers in Japan and Alberta reported longer average working hours than England. That puts England ranked third highest out of the 36 jurisdictions.
A footnote to the Report points out the weakness in the current Conditions Document that avoids a proper limit on overall hours: “England’s statutory work time for teachers (at least applying to teachers in maintained schools) is to be available for 1265 hours across 195 days, which works out at just six and a half hours per day, to be augmented with additional hours “as necessary”. Doesn’t that open-ended wording need replacing with a specific legal limit on overall working hours?
Over half of teachers think their workload is ‘unmanageable’
13% ‘strongly agreed’ and 38% ‘agreed’ with the statement “My workload is unmanageable”. Only 3 per cent strongly disagreed.
The low morale of those who strongly agreed that their workload is unmanageable is shown by the 42% who disagreed that “the advantages of being a teacher clearly outweigh the disadvantages” and over 50% who agreed that “I would like to change to another school if that were possible”.
The Report rightly points to other recent research by the National Foundation for Education Research (2016) which found workload to be “at the centre” of why some interviewed teachers were considering leaving teaching and that in a recent survey for the Guardian one in five teachers claimed they intended to leave the profession because they felt overworked.
It also shows that workload is a significant barrier to accessing professional development. 60 per cent of teachers in England agreed with that statement, the seventh highest ranking in the international comparison.
The Report’s finding that “other jurisdictions, including some which perform consistently highly in international rankings, appear able to avoid [long working hours], and in England teachers do not work much longer hours in outstanding schools” is also worth noting. Long working hours are driving down morale but not improving education!
It’s not only workload, pay levels are poor as well
As well as providing data on workload, the Report also confirms that England’s teachers receive lower pay than similarly educated workers in the wider economy. It does, however, point out that this is generally repeated internationally.
Teachers know this is the case. As many as 73 per cent of teachers in England surveyed in TALIS agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “teachers are underpaid compared to other qualified professionals with similar levels of responsibility”. The Report adds that the School Teachers’ Review Body 2016 pointed out that the relative pay of classroom teachers compared to other graduate professionals has worsened since “so it is unlikely that the situation has improved”.
However, as well as relatively lower pay, “in England the ratio between teachers’ working hours and the average for the whole economy is 17 per cent greater than the ratio in the other countries assessed”. So, overall, England has perhaps the worst overall combination of long hours and low pay compared to similar graduate professionals.
There is evidence in the Report that long hours are particularly discriminating against women teachers. The Report includes tables showing that, in general, more women reported their workload as being unmanageable than men.
The Report observes that “female teachers with children tend to work fewer hours; where that is incompatible with the teaching jobs available, some may simply be unable to teach. Part-time working is not as widespread as might be expected for a disproportionately female workforce. This might explain why, according to TALIS data, only 2.9 per cent of teachers in England are living with children but not as a couple, whereas 4.1 per cent of all people in employment aged 16 to 64 were lone parents in 2013 according to the Office for National Statistics” and that “some potentially outstanding teachers will be unable to join or remain in the profession because of family circumstances”
It’s non-teaching activities that take up the time
The Report confirms what teachers in England have long complained about themselves. The time that teachers in England spend teaching lessons is exactly the 20 hour a week average. It is time spent on other tasks which add up to such a high overall workload.
Interestingly, there’s no one particular activity that stands out particularly starkly. Out of the 36 areas, England’s teachers recorded 6th longest time on marking, 11th on planning, 8th on general administration. It’s the combination of these additional hours that adds up to the third highest ranking overall.
There’s just one area where England ranked particularly low down the international league table of hours - student counselling. Teachers don’t have time for themselves and their families but neither do students get the individual support they need.
The Report concludes that therefore the “DfE are right to focus on planning, marking, and administrative issues” in their advice on workload issues.
Contradictory conclusions – don’t cut planning time, increase class sizes?
DfE advice alone won’t tackle the workload crisis. It needs backing up with concrete agreements to limit workload, and resources to recruit additional teaching staff. Unfortunately, when it comes to concrete actions, the Report starts to draw contradictory conclusions.
It’s keen to point out that the 24 minutes spent by England’s teachers on planning per one hour lesson time is in line with the average of 22 (compared with 35 minutes in Shanghai but just 14 minutes in Finland) and that “the focus should be on making better use of lesson planning time rather than reducing the overall amount”.
The Report suggests further research is needed into the use of ICT to improve on planning and other workload issues. However, in practice, teachers know that ICT can also increase workload demands if used to generate additional teacher tasks.
Particularly worrying is a Schools Week report which leads with the claim that the Report shows that “teachers will struggle to reduce their workload unless schools increase their class sizes”. I haven’t found any such firm conclusion in the Report, nor the evidence to back up this claim. What it does say is that “With pupil numbers in secondary schools set to increase, it is unlikely that teaching timetables can be reduced without an increase in class sizes should teacher numbers not keep pace”. That’s self-evidently true – the solution is to recruit and retain more staff.
There is an inconclusive discussion about pupil teacher ratios in Shanghai which nevertheless does suggest that its model of higher class sizes could be followed in order to “create smaller teaching timetables for each teacher”. However, the Report tempers this with the observation that “replicating greatly increased classes in England might be a particular challenge given the diversity in the mainstream pupil population discussed above” but does add that “this may be an area for further consideration. This is particularly the case if overall teacher supply proves difficult to maintain”.
Any such discussion needs to remember a few key points:
- Yes, alongside cutting back on the volume of non-teaching tasks, reducing teacher loadings to provide increased planning, preparation and assessment time could significantly address workload. But more PPA is best delivered by recruiting more teachers. That means more funding for schools – not less as under this Government.
- Larger class sizes mean more marking and preparation and so higher workload. They also mean less time for each child in that class and a poorer education.
- Lastly, the Report fails to include the statistics which shows that class sizes in England are already some of the highest in the developed world
Most teachers blame “the accountability system” of Ofsted and league tables
The Report displays data suggesting that there is limited correlation between longer working hours and the likelihood of performance dismissal or blocking pay progression. However, it also acknowledges that 43% of those surveyed agreed that consistent underperformance would lead either to dismissal or material sanctions in their school.
It also acknowledges that “teachers in England associate external accountability with work pressures”. In fact as many as 37% ‘disagreed’ with the statement “The accountability system does not add significantly to the pressure of the job”. Another 48% ‘strongly disagreed’. That’s 85% of all of the respondents! Similarly, 50% ‘disagreed’ and 27% ‘strongly disagreed’ that “the accountability system does not add significantly to my workload”.
Once again, the Report throws in a contradictory conclusion that: “the DfE should monitor the implementation of new pay freedoms, which offer an opportunity to achieve a better balance in relative pay across a teacher’s career”. This is an assertion based on a belief in performance-pay systems which is not backed up by evidence. Performance-pay ‘freedoms’, particularly in the context of a budget squeeze, will mean worse, not better, pay. It will also risk more inequality and an increasing fear of the “accountability” regime.
However, that conclusion is balanced by a warning that “it is plausible that a ‘high-stakes’ approach to raising performance has created a long-hours culture in a highly competitive school system. If the focus of that competition is on short-term outcomes, what is individually rational for teachers, department heads and head teachers may ultimately not be constructive for pupil outcomes in the long term. That is not to say that accountability-driven improvement is inappropriate, but that the risks for long-term teacher development should be understood and acted upon by policy makers, even in a school-led system. This report highlights that more needs to be done in order to sustain the teaching workforce and enable it to flourish”.
Ofsted, league tables and performance pay are all adding to workload pressures and low morale. They must be tackled as part of tackling the teacher workload scandal.
The consequences – Teacher turnover and a lack of experienced colleagues
The Report correctly spells out the consequence of high workload, relatively low pay and poor morale. Here are just a few key quotes:
- “We have one of the youngest and least experienced teaching workforces in the developed world”
- “England had one of the fastest reductions in the proportion of teachers aged over 50 in secondary education between 2005 and 2014”
- “England has one of the highest proportions of teachers under 30, and only 48 per cent of its teachers have more than ten years’ experience compared with an average of 64 per cent across jurisdictions”
- “The relatively young teaching workforce in England may therefore be a signal that teachers are experiencing ‘burn-out’, before they even step in to leadership roles”.
- “An obvious implication of high rates of turnover, and short teaching careers, is that the substantial resources invested in initial teaching training will involve significant amounts of waste. If those resources could be allocated better to the teachers who stay for longer, through raising the levels of effective CPD undertaken later in careers, overall teaching quality might be raised and more might stay”.
Encouraging MATs – another ideological conclusion not based on evidence
For a body that states it prides itself on evidence, it is disappointing to see yet another ideologically driven conclusion in the Report which is not backed up by the data.
It states that “We find some evidence to suggest teachers in larger schools tend to work slightly fewer hours. Creating economies of scale through multi-academy trust arrangements or school capital policy may help to ease teacher workload”
First of all, the evidence is statistically unclear. As the Report admits “further work is needed to identify accurately the magnitude of the school size effect and its causes given the modest number of schools included in the survey”. Secondly, school size does not necessarily relate to an ‘economy of scale’ created by a multi academy trust. Of course, the greatest ‘economies of scale’ could be made by having all schools in a locality being accountable to democratically run Local Authorities.
To make such claims about MATs, evidence would need to be provided of lower working hours within academies compared to maintained schools. Anecdotally at least, NUT experience is often that both teacher workload and turnover are higher in academies. After all, even the limited workload guarantees of the Schoolteachers’ Pay and Conditions Document do not automatically apply in the non-maintained sector.
Of course, what is true is that individual employers, whether MATs or Local Authorities, can help act to address the workload crisis by applying clear policies and collective agreements across their schools limiting working hours and non-teaching activities. The NUT wants to reach such agreements with employers in order to address the dangers highlighted in the EPI Report. If its facts and figures can help encourage employers to apply policies that genuinely limit workload, then it will have played a useful role.