Teachers and The 9 Million Hours of Free Labour
A quarter of teachers in the UK are working over 60 hours per week. Why?
Most teachers working in a state school are contracted to work 32.5 hours per week but that has never been the case in reality. A recent study by The UCL Institute of Education found that a quarter of teachers work more than 60 hours per week despite attempts to reduce teachers' working hours. That is almost double the hours stated in the contract. And this is not paid overtime. A research carried out by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that this equals to 9 million hours of free labour each week. Primary teachers are guilty of working the most overtime - 13 hours per week - on average but secondary school teachers are not far behind with 12.8 hours.
Why is this happening? Why are so many teachers working twice the contracted hours?
Let's look at marking first. When focusing on marking and the time spent on it, I am looking at primary schools as this is the sector I work in.
On most days pupils will do literacy, maths, guided reading, topic or science or sometimes both. For a class of 30 pupils that is 120 books to mark (I'm working on the basis that there has only been a science or a topic lesson). If you allow one minute per book, that is still two hours of marking. And quite often you need more than a minute per book, especially when the children have done a longer piece of writing. However, keeping to the two hour estimate, if children leave at 3:30pm and you start writing straight away, you are still looking at a finish time of 5:30pm.
And marking is not the only thing contributing to the working hours. There is planning and preparation of lessons, too. Yes, we do get PPA time each week but that is not nearly enough to get all of your planning and preparation done. If you are lucky, your school will use a scheme such as White Rose for maths or Literacy Tree for English and guided reading so at least you don't have to start from scratch. You are even luckier if you have been in the same year group for longer than a year and can adapt your old planning. But planning also includes differentiating your lesson three - sometimes four - ways and resourcing all the work. And this takes time. A lot of it. Mission impossible in the given PPA time. I often use my PPA time to catch up with marking and then plan at home during the weekends - not an ideal way to spend your weekend, is it?
Then there is all the additional paperwork. We have three parents' evenings per year and for the first two we are required to prepare mini-reports and then the end of year report for the last meeting. End of year reports, yes, I accept those (although not the amount of detail some schools expect you to go into) but not mini-reports twice through the year. They might be mini in name but they still take several hours to get ready.
What else? Of course, pupil progress meetings. Some schools have these at the end of each term, others like mine, have them every half term. This is when you analyse the data from assessments: who has made poor/expected/accelerated progress and why. Thoroughly analysing the data takes several hours. You also need to justify why some children have made poor progress and as teachers we of course want to identify barriers some children have to their learning. But we also need to explain why some children have made better than expected progress. Should it not be celebrated that your teaching has enabled some pupils to make accelerated progress rather than questioned?
Displays, these fabulous, colourful, three dimensional displays of children's learning do not appear on their own. They take a lot of time and preparation. And do they enhance learning? Most teachers would tell you they don't. Of course they make the classroom more attractive and it is great to display examples of children's work but they do little to contribute to learning. When a new display goes up, the pupils notice it at first, especially if their own work is included, but then they tend to forget about it. I am all for displaying children's work but not for displays that make hours to make.
What is the role of a teaching assistant here some might ask. Most teaching assistants work the same hours as children are at school. They might be required to arrive half an hour or 15 minutes before the start of the school day to allow time for a brief conversation with the class teacher about what is happening on the day but most are employed only until 3:30 pm or whatever time the pupils go home. This does not leave them much time to assist you with preparing resources or displays. Could they not do that during lessons times? Most schools do not approve of using TAs to create displays or photocopy resources during lessons which is right as having a TA standing by a photocopier does not support the children's learning. If only more schools employed TAs for an additional hour after school to help in the classroom that would reduce teachers' working hours at least a little.
If you are a subject leader, you often have to find time to do the additional duties that come with the role. Yes, most teachers get an additional payment when they lead a subject but no additional time out of class to fulfil duties required from a subject leader. This, of course, depends on the subject you lead with leaders of maths or literacy more likely to get some additional time out of class. As a subject leader you are required to monitor planning and carry out book looks to check coverage and marking. You also manage the budget for your subject, write the action plans and organise resources. Depending on the subject and the size of your school, this can add several hours to your workload.
The workload is one of the main reasons cited by teachers who have left or are thinking of leaving the profession. The last available figures show that in the twelve months to November 2016, almost one in ten teachers left the profession. And more will be leaving each year unless the Government manages to put in measures that actually work in reducing the work load. Working 60 hours a week is not sustainable and the political leaders need to do more to keep talented and experienced teachers from leaving the state sector.