Time for a limit on teachers’ working hours

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Unlike other occupations, teachers are denied paid overtime and often do not have other flexible working opportunities. Dr Patrick Roach asks whether it is time to put a legal limit on our working hours…

With each report of falling teacher training recruitment (DfE, 2022) and plummeting levels of wellbeing (Education Support, 2022), 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 protection of the limits 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 (NASUWT, 2022), meanwhile, found that workloads had increased for nine out of 10 teachers in the previous year and that in a typical mid-term week, full-time teachers were working 57 hours on average.

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.

Indeed, 84% said 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 will shortly be launching our 2023 Big Question Survey, but 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.

The profession is seeing increased demands to support children and families struggling to keep the lights on and 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 £2bn 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. And unlike other occupations teachers are denied paid overtime and access to the forms of flexible working entitlements which 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.

And, even measures such as the Government’s Workload Charter (DfE, 2021) and Workload Reduction Toolkit (DfE, 2018) 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 teachers’ contract which provides clear working time rights and entitlements within the framework of a maximum 35-hour working week.

While the job of teaching has always been demanding, 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, or through industrial action. And, our Workload Checklist (see further information), is already empowering teachers collectively to address concerns about workload and transform their conditions at work.

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. Every teacher should be afforded a 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.

  • Dr Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT.

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