Teachers in England have worked long hours – an average of 46 to 49 hours a week – for many years, research finds.
The University College London study found primary and secondary teachers’ hours have remained “relatively stable” over the past 25 years.
The researchers say this means reducing teachers’ hours will be difficult and may require “radical action”.
They also say that long working hours are unlikely to be the sole issue in the problem of teacher retention.
The UCL researchers examined data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England who took part in four different surveys between 1992 and 2017.
Their analysis found:
- primary school teachers work between 47 and 49 hours a week “without any substantial change to this figure”
- the average hours of secondary school teachers “sits between 46 and 48 hours per week” and has remained “broadly stable”
- a quarter of teachers work more than 59 hours a week
- 10% work over 65 hours per week
- 40% of teachers report that they “usually'” work in the evening, 10% at the weekend and 7% at night
- teachers in England work on average eight hours more a week than teachers in comparable industrialised countries.
The report concludes that “five years of policy initiatives – implemented by three separate secretaries of state for education – have so far proven insufficient for achieving a reduction in the total number of hours worked by teachers.
“Reducing working hours to bring them into line with international norms will therefore likely require additional, more radical action on the part of policymakers.
“Indeed, our research reveals that working hours have been at the present high levels for many years, which suggests perhaps that they will be more difficult to shift than previously anticipated.”
The UCL study also says: “These findings suggest that workload may have been given undue emphasis in the debate on teacher retention.
“Policymakers might therefore be better off focusing on other, better evidenced approaches to improving retention, such as increasing teacher pay, improving school leadership and improving working conditions.”
For Katie Evans, a primary school teacher for four years, the report findings come as no surprise.
“I’d be spending 50 or 60 hours a week working, with being at school and then extra work at home,” says Katie.
“I’d be at school no later that 0730 and I’d normally be there until 5pm or 6pm and then I’d come home and do at least two hours of marking and planning for the next day – and I’d still be trying to catch up at the weekend.
“It was depressing. It got to the point where I thought ‘I can’t do this any more’.”
It was this lack of work-life balance, as well as a lack of flexibility after having her first child, that led Katie to decide to give up teaching.
What do the researchers say?
Lead report author, Professor John Jerrim from UCL’s Institute of Education, said: “Successive secretaries of state for education have made big commitments to teachers about their working hours – how they are determined to reduce the burden of unnecessary tasks and how they will monitor hours robustly.
“Our data shows just how difficult it is to reduce teacher workload and working hours.
“We’d like to see much closer monitoring of teachers’ working hours, so that the impact of policy can be assessed as soon as possible.
“Overall, bolder plans are needed by the government to show they are serious about reducing working hours for teachers and bringing them into line with other countries.”
Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation which funded the report, added: “Addressing teachers’ working hours is key to the improvement of both teaching quality and supply.
“Taking a wider view of the health of teachers over the past 25 years, the next phase of the project will help us to gain an even better understanding of the teacher workforce.”
What does the government say?
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said it had been making “concerted efforts” to reduce workload driven by unnecessary tasks.
“And we will continue our work with the sector to drive down on these burdensome tasks outside the classroom so that teachers are free to do what they do best – teach.”
Salaries for new teachers were also set to rise to £30,000 by 2022-23, she added.