Teachers in England work on average eight hours more a week than in other OECD countries

One in four teachers work more than 60 hours a week and many work in the evenings, despite successive government promises to reduce their hours, according to a new UCL-led study, “New evidence on teacher workload in England. An empirical analysis of four datasets”.

The paper, published today (18 Sept) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is the first piece of research to look at data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England collected between 1992 and 2017.

The findings show that teachers work around 47 hours per week on average during term-time. This includes the time they spend on marking, lesson planning and administration, with there being little change in this figure over time. In the summer term the average working week was nearer to 50 hours.

Additionally, teachers in England worked on average eight hours more a week compared to teachers in comparable industrialised OECD countries. For example, in 2018, while the average full-time secondary teacher in England worked 49 hours per week the OECD average was 41 hours. The equivalent figure for teachers in Finland was just 34 hours.

The study found that around 40% of teachers in England usually work in the evening, 10% usually work at the weekend. Full-time secondary teachers also said they spend almost as much time on management, administration, marking and lesson planning each week (20.1 hours) as they do actually teaching pupils (20.5 hours).

Lead author, Professor John Jerrim (UCL Institute of Education) 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. 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.”

Researchers based their analysis upon four data sources:

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  1. The Labour Force Survey
  2. The Teaching and Learning International Survey
  3. The UK Time-Use diaries, and
  4. Information gathered from the Teacher-Tapp survey app

Together, these allowed the researchers to compare the working hours of teachers in England to other countries and to investigate change in working hours over time. They were also able to explore how the working hours of teachers vary over the academic year and throughout a regular school day.

The paper highlights that the current methods used by the Government to collect data and working hours are not as reliable as they could be and should be reformed. Researchers believe response rates are low and the absence of diary method data collection means it adds little value over other routinely collected data sources.

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said:

“Earlier this year the Government’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy acknowledged the teacher supply crisis in England. This research adds to our understanding of this crisis by confirming that teachers are working persistently long hours. This has been the case for over two decades, despite a succession of policy announcements during this period.

“As previous Nuffield-funded work has shown, addressing teachers’ working hours is key to the improvement of both teaching quality and supply. Taking a wider view of the health of teachers over the past 25 years, the next phase of the project will help us to gain an even better understanding of the teacher workforce.”

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.

“And we will continue our work with the sector to drive down on these burdensome tasks outside the classroom so that teachers are free to do what they do best - teach.

“Salaries for new teachers are also set to rise to £30,000 by 2022-23 and, this year, teachers and heads can receive a pay rise of 2.75% - above current rates of inflation. We have also launched the Early Career Framework to ensure newly qualified teachers are provided with early career support and development, including mentoring.

"The new Ofsted framework will also have an active focus on reducing teacher workload, with inspectors considering staff workload as part of the leadership and management judgment.

"From September, the government will be fully funding increased contributions into the Teachers’ Pension scheme, so that school leaders can focus as much of their resources as possible on the front line. It means teachers will get an employer contribution of 23.6% on top their salary towards their pension every year to ensure the scheme is fully funded."

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The Government is doing a far better job of driving people out of teaching than they are in retaining them.

“60-hour working weeks are completely unacceptable, and it is one of the key reasons why one third of newly qualified teachers leave 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.

“During the past three years the Government has made efforts to draw attention to ways of reducing workload. The National Education Union has welcomed this, but it is quite obvious to teachers and school leaders that successive education secretaries are failing to solve the problem.

“Government must face the fact that it is the culture of excessive accountability, brought on by the Department for Education and Ofsted, which acts as the main driver of workload. Nor is it fair on children that teachers are so exhausted outside of contact-time with paperwork that so rarely benefits pupils. For so long as these skewed priorities continue, schools will be in the grip of a culture of fear, over-regulation, and a lack of trust. “

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