The UK is in the midst of a crisis. Work related stress accounts for almost half of all sick leave, with 12.5 million working days lost to the condition per year. What’s more, teachers are the third most stressed workers in the UK, to the point where a huge number of new teachers are leaving the profession just a couple of years after joining.
Austerity, the ongoing teacher retainment crisis, and an increase in class sizes, has led to the highest number of teachers leaving the profession since records began. In order to fully understand the teacher workload crisis, we must first address its affecting factors, the conditions teachers currently work in and what can be done to solve the crisis.
The state of teacher workload
Teachers have one of the most important jobs in modern society. They mould our young people into intelligent, thoughtful, individual thinkers. However, the importance of teaching is something that is becoming increasingly overlooked. According to a YouGov poll, commissioned by the chartered college of teaching, “61 per cent of the public think the work of teachers is valued less [today] than it was five years ago.” Almost 80% of the British public also believe that more recognition should be given to teachers for the work they do.
However, it isn’t just recognition that our teachers need. Increased workload is damaging teachers’ mental health, creating a ‘burnout culture’ and preventing students from getting the education they need and deserve. This, in turn, further affects teachers’ job satisfaction. Teacher’s are united in their passion to develop their students into young people that are fully equipped to progress their learning further and achieve their dreams. When this isn’t possible due to too heavy a workload, teachers’ job satisfaction slumps, forcing them to leave the profession. YouGov found that, “53 per cent of teachers would not be likely to recommend teaching as a career to children and young adults.”
Why are we losing teachers?
Teacher job satisfaction is at an all time low, as shown by the government’s survey of over 4,000 current teachers, in which more than 80% said they have considered leaving the profession due to workload. This crisis is only going to get worse, unless something is done to address the specific problems within education. There are already too many talented and dedicated teachers being forced to quit, having 80% of the existing workforce also consider leaving is a sure sign that something is wrong.
The British Journal of Educational Studies found that the number one cause for leaving the profession was ‘to improve work-life balance’, 75% of ex-teachers cited this as their main reason for quitting. 71% said that ‘workload’ was their main reason for leaving and 57% felt that a ‘target driven culture’ was the main push factor.
Poor work-life balance, high workload and a target driven culture are all symptoms of a dysfunctional school culture that many schools fall into the trap of creating, one that bloats teachers’ schedules and reduces how effectively they are able to teach. This kind of work environment has taken decades to culminate. Ever-changing Ofsted regulations, british laws and government guidelines have led some schools to over-complicate and misinterpret policy, giving teachers more work to add to an already strained schedule.
Safeguarding teachers’ time
Perhaps one of the most important ways to tackle the workload crisis is by making teachers’ time a priority. In UK labour law, Working Time Regulations 1998 states that working time should not exceed 48 hours per week, but the average teacher works over 58 hours.
Teachers are already working long hours, and that doesn’t include marking time at home, on holiday and overnight. Teachers dedicate almost all of their time to their profession, taking up even more with unneeded activity is not efficient or healthy.
So how can we safeguard teachers’ time from unwanted interruptions?
- Keep meetings to a minimum
- Ensure that meetings have an agenda and that only relevant staff are invited
- Introduce ‘office hours’ agreeable times that teachers are expected to reply to emails, after that time have an automatic out of office response so as not to intrude on teachers’ home time
- Make sure an up to date communication policy is readily available to parents and carers via your website, this ensures that teachers aren’t contacted when they don’t need to be
- Set aside allocated time for lesson planning (create a collaborative environment to encourage learning and development between colleagues)
- Use a schoolwide discipline system that sets out a clear process for teachers to take with students who don’t behave
- Regularly take data audits to ensure that data collection is efficient and worth the time and effort it takes to collect
By safeguarding teachers’ time and prioritising activity that reduces teacher workload, we can reduce the pressure that pushes teachers out of the profession and work towards building a more positive work environment for educators. Only by directly confronting practices that are inefficient, and tackling them head-on, can we start to transform both the classroom environment and teachers’ lives for the better.