Unrealistic workloads are pushing new teachers out

It’s likely that a fifth of England’s classroom teachers will be working for 60 hours this week.

Teachers are obliged to work 1265 hours per year, with some reasonable additional hours. The truth is that on average classroom teachers work for 1880 hours(48.2 hours per week), and a fifth of them work for 2340+ hours (60 hours per week). That’s nearly twice the amount of work hours they’re paid for!

To put this in a bit more perspective, teachers are obliged to work 195 days per year. 2340 / 195 is 12. We reasonably expect one fifth of teachers to work every working day for 12 hours, which is obviously crazy. So instead work is taken home and done over the weekends and holidays.

“There were regular early mornings, late evenings and weekend work” newly qualified science teacher.

A heavy workload is biggest reason for 25% of teachers leaving the workforce within the first three years in the profession.

Amal and I are one month into a service design project to retain STEM subject teachers within their first three years in the profession. So far we’ve spoken with head teachers, school leaders, classroom teachers and many other people who work in the educational sector. We want to uncover the reasons why there are so many new teachers leaving. One of the main reasons we’ve found is that unrealistic workloads are pushing new teachers out.

“There’s just continual unrealistic expectations of you. From the staff, the parents, the kids” newly qualified math teacher

A Government workload survey for teachers’ found that on average the majority of teachers spend 20 hours teaching per week, 8.2 hours planning, 8.7 hours doing marking and report writing, 3 hours doing admin tasks and 3 hours doing management and staff roles (including meetings and mentorships). There’s also a couple more hours spent speaking with parents and supervising pupils. This doesn’t even go into how an inefficient new teacher will spend their time.

Teaching workload

A new teacher might be a student on the Teach First program, which provides a 6 week training program to high achieving graduates, before getting their first job in a disadvantaged state school.

“My first day of teaching I had six hours of teaching and I’d never taught a class before. You just get put into a classroom and are expected to do it.” Teach First physics teacher

A new teacher might also be a newly qualified teacher, who has just finished attained a Post Graduate Certificate of Education. Whichever route into teaching, new classroom teachers will experience behavioural challenges in their classroom, which they’re unprepared for. One newly qualified physics teacher recently said to me about a lower set class he teaches, “they’re the ones who are having the most problems with the educational system and therefore are likely to be the ones who are naughtiest”.

Workload increases significantly if a student disrupts a class or is defiant (doesn’t do what they’re asked to). A teacher might be expected to follow up with the pupil, other staff members and the parents of the child, who might also have an issue with the situation. One newly qualified math teacher I spoke with said they tried to give a child a detention but “the child’s dad said no, because he would be coming home late and it will be dark.” The stress from not knowing how to manage a pupil can lead teachers to feel as though they don’t have the power to teach a class.

Planning workload

For a new teacher, planning classes and resources can take up to an hour per lesson. Even if they have access to existing lesson plans, they need to differentiate (adapting lesson plans based on pupil needs) between their pupils, which itself is confusing to a teacher with limited experience. It’s even more challenging if there’s a new national curriculum, which limits access to resources.

“I was told you differentiate for them. Other than giving them different work, I wasn’t really sure of other strategies” Teach First math teacher

Marking workload

Changes to the national curriculum and the national school inspectorate Ofsted also creates new pressures and workloads for classroom teachers to plan, run and assess their lessons. A new teacher will be instructed through school policy and their head of department about what these changes mean to their workload.

“Every marking policy I’ve seen is unrealistic. It asks teachers to do something, which there is no time to do.” Newly qualified physics teacher

Teachers might be expected to mark each of their classes books every two weeks. A new teacher can spend three to four hours marking each set of books, providing specific feedback to each student, which again adds to the workload.

“The thing that is prevalent at the moment is WWW (what went well) with students work and EBI (Even better if), that’s meant to be their development comment. Just giving or tick or saying well done isn’t good marking. It’s got to be specific.” Newly qualified physics teacher.

Leadership support

New teachers need support from peers and leadership to know what to do when things don’t go as they should. However, due to heavy workloads being shared among all staff, this is another challenge.

“I never felt like I had a head of department to go to… There were other teachers in the department, but I never felt as though I had the time to make relationships with any of them” Teach First math teacher

It’s standard for a new teacher to have a mentor in the school, but again due to workload responsibilities and time pressures, their meetings are usually based on meeting standards.

“There’s catch up meetings and mentoring meetings, lesson observations… You plan and write up those meetings if you’re a newly qualified teacher. Then you look against all the teachers standards to make sure they’ve got evidence in a folder for every single one of those” Head of science

Workload expectations and reality

New teachers working full time can be expected to work for at least 12 hours a day in order to fulfil their obligations. There is a critical misalignment between what a new teacher is capable of doing in order to get the best learning outcomes from their pupils and what is expected of them without adequate time and support.

Expectations of planning for a large class size with little time can lead to teachers not putting enough thought into the structure or the resources. Teaching a class that is disruptive and defiant, when a teacher is exhausted from workload can lead them to not teaching as well as they can. Excessive marking requirements can lead teachers to always being behind on all their work.

The next phase of this project is to speak with STEM subject newly qualified teachers about their experiences with workload and to find effective practises for retaining teachers internationally. This is in order to find opportunities that can be designed for. If you have any insights into these areas, or know a STEM subject secondary school teacher who might be up for speaking with us, please do get in contact with me at c.boland-shanahan@network.rca.ac.uk or Amal at amal.hmayed@network.rca.ac.uk

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