How hard do teachers really work?

Well, pay and workload has hit the headlines once again as the NUT has voted for further strikes in June. I’ve been saying for a long time that strikes are ridiculous, and that view is not going to change, justified by the fact that all of the previous strikes done have clearly achieved absolutely nothing apart from causing a nuisance to children, parents, and our own reputation as professionals.

Teachers’ unions have warned about excessive workloads and complained about staff being put under too much pressure since the new government has come in. The long working week has been one of the grievances prompting teachers to go on strike over and over. But today’s post is going to look at whether these claims can be justified or not.

We’re quite unusual in many ways because we actually keep an official record of hours worked. The Department for Education runs an annual survey in which a sample of teachers in differing sorts of schools keep a diary of their working lives. The latest of these surveys was published in February and looked at hours worked in 2013.

Let’s start with the number of hours in the working week. The government has expressed it’s ignorance to the amount of hours for several years, claiming that our job is simply start at 9am and finish 3.30pm, 5 days a week, equating to 32.5 hours a week. The survey paints a very different picture. It reveals that secondary head teachers logged an average of 63.3 hours a week, and primary school teachers working longer hours than their secondary counterparts on average – 59.3 hours compared to 55.7 hours per week. This is almost double what the government claim.

The reason for this is because the government simply look at the hours of which are spent teaching. The survey describes these teaching hours as a simply minority of a teacher’s workload, averaging around 19 hours of timetabled teaching. Of course head teachers are timetabled much less in the classroom due to their roles.

So what else goes into our teaching hours besides teaching? Well in school, there are tasks such as marking, supervising children out of class, planning and any other administration work. But this isn’t all either. This work also comes in out of school hours too. The survey reports that primary teachers spend almost a day’s worth (23.8 hours per week) of work outside of school, compared to just over 21 hours for secondary heads and teachers.

To me this prompts the question of why we are spending all our time on this, particularly with the ‘other administration’ part, which just under 5 hours a week is allocated according to the survey. Not all of it is useful, the survey suggests. There are 45% of classroom teachers who think the amount of time spent on “unnecessary or bureaucratic” tasks has increased, with only 5% saying it has reduced. The biggest cause of unnecessary paperwork, the teachers reported, was preparing for an Ofsted inspection. Head teachers also identified changing government policies and guidelines as generating “unnecessary” bureaucracy.

So what does all this mean? Well in terms of pay, it means that teachers in effect get paid around half the minimum wage for the amount of hours they work, as they only get paid for the hours they work in school, which is what the most of this uproar and strike action has been about. This has been an age old issue which has never been solved by successive governments. It is no secret that teaching is an underpaid and sometimes undervalued profession, it always has been. Will this government or any government change that? Well in these economic times I highly doubt it, but I am open to be surprised in a nice way. So for me, all this striking by teachers and lecturers is not going to achieve anything, so instead of whinging and striking time after time, as much as I’d hate to say it, it will have to be a grin and bear it scenario until the economy sufficiently picks up enough that we can afford to speak out. Let’s not forget that we have children’s futures in our hands, and whether you like it or not, the chances are the work we do will make life a lot easier for them. Most of the work we do is for the next generation and generations after that, not our own. Let’s not lose sight of that.


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