Teachers' anger at inaction on excessive workload

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

The workload crisis facing teaching dominated the annual conferences of the three main teaching unions, including calls to tackle deep marking practices, set limits on working time, and offer more support for teachers’ mental health.

At the NASUWT annual conference in Birmingham, delegates warned of the impact that excessive workload is having on teacher wellbeing.

In 2015, research showed that 80 per cent of NASUWT members said that their jobs were having a negative impact on their welfare.

A motion on excessive workload and working time, passed by delegates, warned that the problem was so severe that some teachers are self-medicating and self-harming. It called on the union to campaign to secure “enhanced practical support for teachers dealing with mental illness” and to encourage the “creation of Health and Safety at Work Committees in all workplaces”.

A second motion on work/life balance, also passed, attacked the “dismissive attitude shown by employers to teachers’ statutory entitlement to a work/life balance”. It called on the union to continue its campaign for the enforcement of work/life balance policies in all schools that set out a clear limit on working hours.

In a third motion at NASUWT, delegates also attacked so-called “deep marking” policies, “marking on demand”, and demands for the continuous assessment of pupils. Deep marking is when teachers are expected to give written feedback to work, pupils’ response to which is also required to be verified by the teacher.

The motion also highlighted concerns that Ofsted inspectors “continue to highlight particular methods of marking in their reports, despite the clarification for schools published by Ofsted in March 2015 and statements about marking made by the secretary of state”.

The motion, which was passed, instructs the union to engage with the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted “with the aim of developing further guidance on marking policies for inspectors and schools”. It also called for the union to use industrial action if necessary in schools where marking procedures are being abused.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “Teachers are being subjected to policies which dictate when to mark, how to mark and even the colours of the pens to be used.

“They deprofessionalise teachers, add no value for pupils and are often dreamt up by those who have lost touch with the day-to-day realities of the classroom and who focus more on monitoring teachers than on the progress of pupils. So serious is the issue that the NASUWT has issued a specific action instruction to members to empower them to reassert their professionalism, reject these unacceptable policies and mark and assess in the way they believe will benefit the children and young people they teach.”

The debates came as the government published the final reports of three working groups set up to tackle the main causes of workload as identified in the DfE’s Workload Challenge.

Launched almost 18 months ago, the Workload Challenge survey saw responses from almost 44,000 teachers, with marking, lesson and weekly planning, and data management coming out as the three main drivers of excessive workload.

The three working group reports make a series of recommendations for ministers, Ofsted and other bodies, and for schools and teachers.

Education unions have welcomed their publication but have called on the DfE “act on the major role it has to play in keeping teachers’ workloads under control” – a call echoed in SecEd this week (see below).

Elsewhere, at the National Union of Teachers’ conference in Brighton, a motion passed on the teacher shortage crisis cited figures from a recent NUT/YouGov survey showing that 53 per cent of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years, with the top two reasons being volume of workload (61 per cent) and to find a better work/life balance (57 per cent).

At the same time, a survey released by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers during its annual conference in Liverpool found that around 90 per cent of the teachers and support staff who responded blame workload and poor work/life balance for the current recruitment and retention crisis.

Eighty-three per cent said they themselves had considered leaving the profession, with the majority blaming workload. Among the respondents, an English teacher at a community school in Oxfordshire said: “I just can’t manage the relentless workload, no matter what strategies I employ. My marriage has recently broken down and I am now divorced. My ex-husband said it seemed school was always more important than him and the family.”

An academy teacher from Tyne and Wear added: “I don’t feel like I have a life outside school. I am physically and mentally exhausted when I come in from work.”

Back at the NUT, a second motion on workload warned that the growing teacher shortage, rising student numbers, and reduced funding to schools were creating a “perfect storm” on workload.
It stated: “All these factors will drive up class sizes, reduce the numbers of support staff, cut resources and inevitably increase workload. This is an intolerable prospect when a majority of teachers are already saying they are thinking of quitting, and over 60 per cent of those cite workload as the key reason.”

The motion, which was passed, called upon the NUT to campaign to “persuade members that national strike action will be necessary to bring about changes in the intolerable working conditions, and lack of work/life balance, created by current government policies”.

Responding to the debates, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that the causes of teacher shortage problems are clear: “Workload, workload, workload – for not enough pay.”

She added: “It is not just the hours worked – though they are too high – but the sheer amount of time spent on an accountability system which functions as though it doesn’t trust teachers. Teachers are expected to paste in photos of their lessons, write down verbal feedback to students, and provide lesson plans in immense detail. None of this helps teachers to teach.

“Teachers speak of having no life outside of school, nor time for family and friends. We are not talking about having to stay a little bit later of an evening, but of workloads that keep teachers working into the night and at weekends. NUT surveys this month (March) found 86 per cent of primary teachers and 82 per cent of secondary teachers reporting a decline in their personal morale over the last two years. Three quarters of teachers said their workload had increased since the government launched its Workload Challenge in 2014.”


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