Working hours blight: Research confirms workload crisis in schools

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Primary school teachers are working 49 hours a week on average, with primary leaders clocking up 56 hours a week, government research has shown.

Yet more evidence of the workload crisis in schools has been published as part of a government longitudinal research project.

It shows working hours and workload running high, taking a heavy toll on the health and wellbeing of school staff. It also reveals significant dissatisfaction with pay levels.

The report is the first in a series of publications as part of the Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders research. The first survey was carried out in the spring of 2022 and the longitudinal study will run until at least 2026.

It has been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and is being conducted by IFF Research and the Institute of Education.

The wave 1 report (Adams et al, 2023), which was published without fanfare on the DfE website, is based on responses from 11,177 school leaders and teachers. Here are the headline findings:

Working hours

Full-time teachers clock up 51.9 hours a week compared to 37.3 for part-time colleagues. Full-time leaders, meanwhile, clock up 57.5 compared to 48.8 for their part-time counterparts.

When broken down by phase, primary school leaders are working 56.2 hours a week on average compared to 58.3 for secondary leaders.

And primary teachers are working 49.1 hours a week compared to 48.5 hours for secondary colleagues.

For headteachers only, working hours are even higher – 58.8 hours a week (rising to 61.1 hours for secondary headteachers).


Many teachers in the survey (66%) reported that they spent more than half of their working time on tasks other than teaching, rising to 77% for secondary teachers.

This included general administrative work, data recording, inputting and analysis, behaviour and incident follow-up, lesson planning, and marking.

For leaders, 68% said they spent too much of their time responding to government policy changes, while general administrative work was also high on their list.

Overall, 72% of the teachers said their workload was not acceptable and 62% said they didn’t have sufficient control over it.

The report states: “Most teachers and leaders indicated that their school had revised their policies and approaches to try to improve workload over the last year, although views on the effect of these revisions were mixed. The most successful revisions related to marking and feedback policy.”

Flexible working

Four in 10 of the respondents said they had some kind of flexible working arrangement in place with their school, most commonly this involved part-time working (21%) or being able to take PPA time off-site (12%).

Flexible working was much more likely to be reported in primary schools (50% vs 29%).

The report adds: “Flexible working was linked with more positive perceptions of other aspects of teachers’ and leaders’ working lives. Those working flexibly in some way were more likely to agree (compared to those who didn’t work flexibly) that they were satisfied with their job most or all of the time and that they felt valued by their school.”

Pupil behaviour

A total of 62% of the respondents said that pupil behaviour was “good” or “very good” in their schools, with 22% rating it “acceptable”.

However, primary school colleagues were more likely to rate behaviour as good or better (74%) compared with secondary school staff (49%).

The report adds: “Those with teaching responsibilities generally felt supported to deal with persistently disruptive behaviour effectively, with 61% saying this was ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ the case, although there were a minority who did not feel they were always supported.”


Around 12% of the respondents reported experiencing bullying in the past year, with 8% reporting discrimination.

Secondary teachers, SENCOs, and those less satisfied with their job were the groups most likely to have experienced bullying or harassment.

Those from a black or other ethnic minority background were more likely than white teachers or leaders to report bullying (15% compared to 11%) and discrimination (18% compared to 7%).

And those with a disability were more likely than those with no disability to report bullying (17% compared to 10%) and discrimination (12% compared to 7%).

Staff wellbeing

Most teachers in the study felt their work had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, including experiencing stress in their work (86%), poor work/life balance (65%), and a negative impact on their mental health (56%) and physical health (45%).

The report adds: “There was a link between pupil behaviour and anxiety levels among teachers, with reported anxiety levels higher among those who reported pupil behaviour as being poor than those who considered pupil behaviour to be good. Leaders’ reported anxiety levels, on the other hand, were relatively unaffected by perceptions of pupil behaviour.”

Pay and retention

While a slight majority of the respondents said they were satisfied with their job most or all of the time (58%), a quarter (25%) said they were considering leaving the state school sector in the next year for reasons other than retirement.

This was higher for those in secondary schools (28%) and for more experienced teachers (26%).

The most common reasons for quitting included high workload (92%), government initiatives or policy changes (76%), and other pressures relating to pupil outcomes or inspection (69%).

And on pay, 61% of the respondents in spring 2022 said they were dissatisfied with their pay.


Critics were quick to note that the DfE has taken more than a year to publish these findings and did not include any of this evidence in its recent submission to the STRB on teachers’ pay levels.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is disappointing but also telling that the DfE has kept the results of this survey under wraps for so long. It did not feature in their submission of evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body as they consider pay for 2023/24.

“The inescapable conclusion for all who read it now, is that teacher workload is not only out of control but driving talented people out of the profession. It is only proper that this survey is now considered by the STRB, in addition to the wealth of evidence submitted by education unions.”

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “The DfE’s own report finds that school leaders and teachers are shouldering unsustainable workloads, so it is a mystery why there is so little government action to address this problem.

“We have been pressing the government to release the findings of this important survey for months, and it is extremely disappointing that it has taken so long for them to do so. The delay has meant that not only was the report not included in the DfE’s evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body, but other statutory consultees were unable to refer to it in their own submissions.

“We intend to refer to this survey in our oral evidence session with the STRB, as it lays bare the crisis facing the teaching profession and underscores the urgent need for funded pay increases as well as a systemic overhaul of workload and conditions of service.”

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.