OECD survey shows government failing England's teachers, says union

By agency reporter
June 24, 2019

England’s teachers are highly motivated by the opportunity to influence children’s development or contribute to society – 93 per cent of teachers cited these factors as major motivations for joining the profession, according to the findings of the OECD’s first volume of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) 2018.

The National Education Union (NEU) says findings from Talis indicate that the Government is failing teachers and school leaders who are working longer hours, for less pay and have less job satisfaction than their OECD counterparts.

In addition, England’s secondary head teachers are more likely to report that a shortage of teachers is hampering quality teaching (38 per cent) than other OECD head teachers (21 per cent).

Full time primary teachers in England work an average 52.1 hours a week, according to Talis; while full-timers in lower secondary (KS3) put in an average of 49.3 hours a week, an increase of just over an hour since the last Talis survey was published in 2013. In contrast Denmark’s full-time primary teachers report an average working week of 39.4 hours; while for Turkey’s primary full timers the working week averages 32 hours.

England’s part-time teachers are working the equivalent of a full-time working week – 35.7 hours in primary and 36.1 in lower secondary – confirming evidence from NEU members that they are having to go part time to cope with ever burgeoning workloads. Among secondary part timers, the average working week has increased by five hours since 2013.

England’s teachers spend one hour per week less than their OECD counterparts on teaching, on average, but almost seven hours a week more on non-teaching tasks. 

Asked whether they are underpaid compared to professionals with similar levels of responsibility, 87 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they are, compared with 74 per cent who thought so in 2013.

Despite feeling underpaid, Talis shows that England’s teachers still put pupils first when it comes to funding, says the NEU.  Three quarters of England’s secondary teachers (75 per cent) say if their school had more money they would like to see it spent on reducing class sizes (compared with an OECD average of 65 per cent); 66 per cent would like more support staff (compared with 55 per cent across the OECD); and 53 per cent said higher pay (compared with 64 per cent across the OECD).

TALIS reveals that England’s teachers are younger (an average of 39 years-old) than their OECD counterparts (44 years on average), have less experience and feel less prepared in relation to subject knowledge and pedagogy for taking on their role than those in other OECD countries. Despite this, the survey also reveals that many teachers feel unable to access Continuing Professional Development (CPD) due to the high cost and a demanding work schedule. 56 per cent of secondary teachers said cost was a barrier to accessing CPD, compared with 45 per cent across the OECD; and 64 per cent blamed their work schedule, compared with an OECD average of 54 per cent.

When asked if the advantages of being a teacher outweigh the disadvantages, less than three quarters of lower secondary teachers (72 per cent) stated that they do, down from 83 per cent in 2013. Just 69 per cent said they would choose to become a teacher again (compared with the OECD average of 76 per cent); and 52 per cent said they would choose another profession (against an OECD average of 34 per cent).

The NEU says the Talis findings confirm that steps taken by the Government in recent years have failed to tackle the underlying workload burdens on England’s teachers and school leaders. 

Official figures show that over a fifth of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in 2015 were no longer working in state schools by 2017. Among 2012 NQTs, a third were no longer teaching five years later; and up to 40 per cent of teachers left within ten years.

In a recent NEU survey of more than 8,000 teachers, school leaders and support staff, two fifths of respondents (40 per cent) predicted that they will no longer be working in education by 2024, and almost one fifth (18 per cent) expected to be gone within two years. More than a quarter (26 per cent) of those with less than five years’ experience said they planned to quit by 2024.

When asked why they would be leaving, workload (62 per cent) and the accountability regime (40 per cent) were the main reasons cited; and among those with less than five years’ experience, the equivalent figures were 77 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.

Poor pay is another driver of teacher dissatisfaction and a problem for recruitment and retention. Survey responses from almost 34,000 teachers polled by the NEU earlier this year found that 70 per cent were thinking of leaving the profession due to low pay or the performance related pay (PRP) system. An overwhelming majority felt underpaid compared to contemporaries in other graduate professions. 79 per cent believed that their pay was less or significantly less than they would expect given their job weight, role and responsibilities.

The NEU believes that teacher pay across the main pay range would require an increase of some 15 per cent to restore it to 2010 levels in real terms; and teachers on the upper pay range would require a pay increase of over 17 per cent to restore the real-terms cuts to pay since 2010. 

Commenting on the report, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Talis’s findings for England reveal a demoralised workforce, experiencing low pay, long hours, high turnover and heavy responsibilities without the resources or CPD they need to secure high-quality teaching and learning.

“The findings should act as a wake-up call for any future Prime Minister. The Government must end teachers’ unsustainable workload by tackling the high-stakes school accountability system which is fuelling the long hours culture and driving teachers out of the profession. Teachers also need a significant pay rise to bring their salaries in line with professionals with comparable levels of responsibility.

“Crucially, Government must put more money into our schools to ensure we have the resources and sufficient qualified staff who can access the CPD they need to provide the high-quality education our children and young people are entitled to.”

* Download The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey here

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

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