Reduce working hours to improve teacher retention, suggests new research

By Agencies
March 21, 2018

According to a new study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), teachers work the longest hours at 50 hours per week during term time, followed by police officers (44) and nurses (39). Working long hours over prolonged periods, as teachers are doing, can create pressure and stress, with potential negative effects on health and well-being, all of which may impact on staff retention.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looks at how the teaching profession compares to nursing and policing – two of the other large and important public sector professions. Pay caps and job pressures have reportedly fuelled staff shortages across the public sector. Using Understanding Society survey data, NFER examined how full time teachers compare to full time nurses and police officers. Comparing the characteristics of each profession’s workforce, earnings, hours worked and job satisfaction, the research found that working hours is still a matter of concern for teachers.

It shows that the long hours that teachers work during term time exceed the amount of extra holiday time they may receive. Even after taking account of school holidays, full-time teachers still work the equivalent of 45 hours per week.

The study also found that teachers’ average hourly pay (in real terms, after adjusting for inflation) has decreased by 15 per cent since 2009/10. Over the same period, average hourly pay has fallen by four and 11 per cent for nurses and police officers. However, despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes, but not with their amount of leisure time.

According to the analysis:

  • 47 per cent of teachers said they were satisfied with their amount of leisure time in 2015-16, the lowest of the three professions, while 43 per cent said they were dissatisfied.
  • 78 per cent of full time teachers said they were satisfied with their jobs in 2015-16, which is lower than full time nurses’ job satisfaction rates, but higher than full time police officers.
  • 79 per cent of teachers said they were satisfied with their income levels. Nurses and police officers are less satisfied with their income levels than teachers.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “This is an important piece of research to gain insight into whether the difficulties faced in recruitment and retention are unique to teaching or common to other professions in the public sector. Our analysis shows that long working hours is one of the main barriers to improving teacher retention, an issue that is consistent with our previous reports in this series, and that working hours have been increasing over the last five years. Therefore, we recommend that further work to reduce the working hours of teachers should be a priority for school leaders and the Government.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Without action to reduce working hours, financial incentives to attract new teachers will be limited in the extent to which they can tackle the supply crisis, as teachers will continue to leave the profession in high numbers. Recent recognition by the Secretary of State of the need to address teacher workload is welcome, but this research shows that a more ambitious action plan is required, particularly in the context of rising student numbers.”

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said, “This report confirms what we already know. Teacher workload is unbearably high, it is driving the teacher recruitment crisis and leading to unnecessary stress and in many cases an unacceptable work-life balance. Teachers are used to spending time outside of school preparing exciting lessons, but are now spending unbearably long hours on tasks to satisfy the Government’s obsession with data collection. This is driving many to despair.

“While we welcome the conclusions that teacher working hours are too long and should be reduced, the working hours quoted in the report are shorter than the DfE’s more recent workload survey which show teachers in England work an average of 54 hours a week, while school leaders work in excess of 60. Our own data on attitudes is also completely contrary to the statement that ‘despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes’. Given that the data presented is approaching three years old, the NFER conclusions may actually paint too cheerful a picture. The NEU’s annual survey on pay and progression found that 80 per cent of respondents said their pay was less or significantly less than they thought it should be given their workload and responsibilities.

“We welcome the recent statements by the Education Secretary and Ofsted that they are committed to addressing teacher workload. A few concessions however are not enough. We do need to see real concrete change to the working lives of teachers if we are to attract and keep people in the profession. Failure to deliver on this will be detrimental to our children and young people’s education.”

* National Foundation for Educational Research https://www.nfer.ac.uk/

* National Education Union https://neu.org.uk/

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