On paper, teaching seems like one of the best lines of work to get into for a happy work/life balance due to the contracted teaching working hours. With up to 13 weeks paid holiday each year and weekends off to relax, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that teachers have one of the best jobs on the planet. Their apparent ‘free time’ is certainly something that draws envious eyes from those that work in different careers.
Why then, is the industry struggling so badly with staff shortages that English schools have had to spend £800m on stand-in teachers in the last year alone? Dig beneath the surface, and you quickly start to find an industry bogged down in paperwork and unpaid overtime.
A study published by the Education Policy Institute last year found that teacher working hours in England are longer than almost anywhere else in the world. Despite this, they actually spend less time (around 20 hours) in the classroom than many other developed countries.
The survey also claims that the majority of a teacher’s average 48.2 hour week in England is spent on lesson planning, form-filling and marking. In comparison, the survey found that teachers in Italy worked on average just 28.4 hours a week.
Findings by the Guardian’s teacher network and Guardian jobs survey in March of last year backed up these figures, with a third of the survey’s 4,450 respondents claiming to work 60 hours or more a week – a figure that is illegal under European Union law.
What’s perhaps more worrying, is the influence that teacher working hours are having on their health. Over eight in ten (82%) British teachers now claim that their workload in unmanageable. That pressure is having a knock-on effect on their physical and mental well being too, with nearly three quarters claiming that their job is having an adverse effect on their health.
That’s certainly something Laura Cox, a 26-year-old primary school teacher from Birmingham, can relate to: “I work through my lunch every day and end up having about ten minutes where I try to stuff down all of my food whilst setting up for my next lesson.
“At my new school, I have to do about 17 pages of planning a week, much of which I don’t end up using. It really does start to wear you down when you’re in work every morning at half seven and don’t leave until six because you have to do so much planning and marking.”
“I can say with some confidence that I won’t be in the profession in ten years’ time…I’m about done now.” She added.
How Do Teacher Working Hours Compare With Other Industries?
Last year, a person in full-time employment in the UK worked an average of 37.4 hours a week according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Over a course of a year, that would mean that teaching working hours are an extra 90 hours compared to their counterparts in other industries.
It’s little surprise, then, that the Trades Union Congress estimate teachers to do more unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry.
Speaking about the worrying teaching working hours late last year, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Excessive accountability measures, which have little to do with improving education, are the driving force behind this long-hours culture.
“On top of low starting pay and little or no time for professional development, it is hardly surprising that teachers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession in such large numbers.” He added.
Around one in five teachers are estimated to be thinking about leaving the profession in the next five years due to their current working conditions, but there could be a small glimmer of hope on the horizon.
According to figures from the Guardian, teachers who have pupils that use computers for projects during school for the majority of their lessons, work an average of 4.6 hours less per week than those who only use them occasionally.
How much time technology could save teachers in the future is a relatively unknown area, however, based on the recent worrying trends emerging from the industry, it is one the government should explore more closely.