It is safe to say that there is an impending crisis in teacher numbers; it is likely to get worse. Recruitment targets have either been missed or just about hit depending upon whose version of events you believe. But more worryingly 30% of teachers are leaving within the first five years. The government’s response is to say that there are more teachers than ever in schools; this may be true but it is a little bit like saying that I have more carpet than ever in my new house but neglecting to mention that I have built several extra rooms. The key issue is whether we have enough teachers for the students in front of us. This 3 part series will look at what is going wrong and what we can do about it.
Part 2 – workload
At the time of writing #staffroomelephant it was suggested that the average working week for teachers was 59 hours and 56 hours per week for primary and secondary teachers respectively. The most recent survey suggests a slight reduction to 53 hours overall in secondary but as the graphic below suggests a significant proportion are working well in excess of sensible hours.
My most popular blog post of last year with well over a thousand views, as well as a key theme of my book, is the idea that #50isplenty. Key message – if you can limit each working week to 50 hours, you will give yourself the best chance of long term survival in the classroom. The key issue with workload is that it is cumulative. We may be able to manage the odd crazy week but if we do it week in week out it is this that drains us as teachers and leads to burnout.
In writing about workload over the last couple of years it is clear that there are no magic wands but there are 3 causes or types of workload
1. Workload that you can control: We can reduce our stress by getting more organised. Having a year planner with all your schools key dates on one document and fitting your marking around it is essential assuming your school allows you a little flexibility. Invest some time in thinking about time saving marking strategies; My blog on feedback contains some useful links and ideas. We also need to stop the perfectionism. It is hard for some of us but part of our responsibility in dealing with workload is to accept that it can’t all be done and to make peace with that. Some teachers find that quite difficult and although I have no hard evidence, I think perfectionists are more likely to leave.
2. Workload that your school controls: just as you make the weather in your classrooms so too your school and your leadership team affects how much you can control your workload. Here overbearing policies on feedback, over rigorous monitoring of lesson plans etc. under the misapprehension of what ofsted may or may not want have all contributed to excessive workload. If schools want to ensure they have enough teachers, this is an area where bravery is needed in cutting things that take time but add no value.
3. What only the government controls: even with good time management strategies and with the most enlightened senior management team, the workload in teaching is still considerable. There are two things that only the government can do. Firstly, stop constantly changing things. This year I have taught a new Linear A level. The increase in work for this has been significant. Some colleagues will have had new A levels, a new GCSE and changes in Key Stage 3 assessment all within 12-18 months linear. Please leave us alone now for a few years so we can see how these changes bed in! Secondly although we know we are responsible for outcomes, the level of accountability experienced is crippling. League table places and sudden decline in results often lead to heads being removed; in some schools middle leaders and heads of department have also been made to fall on their swords after a difficult year. We need to find a way of cutting people a little slack.
Workload is the killer in terms of teacher retention but there are things that we can do to help ourselves at least to an extent. The final part will look at some of the possible solutions to the crisis in teacher numbers that we may need to implement if the numbers continue as they are.