September is here again, and teachers across England are returning to school. Refreshed from a much-needed summer break, they are ready to draw the very best out of the children in their classes. By half term, though, they’ll be knackered again, and by December they won’t know which way is up. Again.
Why? It is quite simple. Classroom teachers work, on average, 55 hours/week, rising to 60 hours for senior teachers, according to the DfE. Far from being heroic, this is plain stupid. Take a look at this graph from the OECD, comparing the productivity and average hours worked of different countries, across multiple industries. The correlation is all too painfully obvious.
Teachers’ real hours are approx 55*30=1,650 hrs/year which initially sounds quite good. However, by squashing them all into 30 weeks instead of the usual 48 (2 weeks hol + 10 days of bank hols), we get all the stress of 55*48=2,640 hrs/year. Right at the far end of the this scale.
But don’t teachers’ long holidays compensate? A well-known study from Ford says yes, but only for a few weeks. After that, you are actually less productive than if you worked only a 35-hour week.
My opinions are not exactly radical. The DfE issued its Workload Challenge in 2014 and is still pushing hard for teachers’ workloads to come down. However, according to the TES, they are not getting anywhere. Teachers’ workloads have actually grown during that period.
It seems that SLTs are by-and-large ignoring the advice. The TES reports that only 20 per cent of senior leaders said their schools “actively addressed” the recommendations. I think this is a strategic mistake that is hitting schools where it hurts most: in the exam results. Tired teachers can’t teach.
This is not something that is going to be fixed with timid action. A little easement here or there will soon evaporate and we will be back to where we came from. My suggestion to any head teacher reading this: copy the French. Their legally-mandated 35-hour work week translates into a simple rule: no working from home. At all. Marking, lesson prep and everything else takes place in school. Challenge your HoDs to prioritise jobs according to their impact on learning, and simply dump those that fall below the 35 hour threshold.
Scary? Yes. But doable? France says ‘Oui!’, and so do I.