Recruitment and retention

Teachers’ home working ‘masks’ true workload challenge

Most leaders have not read government workload reduction toolkit, and just 1 in 10 found it 'useful'

Most leaders have not read government workload reduction toolkit, and just 1 in 10 found it 'useful'

File image showing a woman struggling with her workload

Teachers taking their work home with them “masks” the true scale of workload challenges, with fixed hours needed to “uncover” the extent of the problem, MPs have been told.

The House of Commons education committee also heard how most leaders have not read the government’s workload reduction toolkit, and just 9 per cent found it useful.

Experts warned the current system was “wringing” the sense of purpose from teachers and prioritising “performance over wellbeing”.

Here’s what we learned from experts who gave evidence to the inquiry about teacher recruitment and retention today.

1. Lack of fixed hours ‘masks’ workload issues

Workload is currently “hidden, it’s masked, it’s being done at home”, according to Professor Becky Allen, chief analyst at Teacher Tapp.

Becky Allen
Becky Allen

“Until we move towards fixed working hours for teachers, we won’t uncover and therefore resolve the nature of the workload difficulty,” she warned MPs.

She favours fixed hours of “say, 8am until 4.30pm every day, and an expectation that they should go home and there is no work that a headteacher should be asking them to do”.

“And then we’ll find the job is not manageable, and then we will have a public debate about what we do about it. But until then, we pretend that we’re trying to fix a problem, but ultimately it’s masked inside teachers’ homes.”

We would then need to “find solutions to workload, and we might not like them”.

“They might mean, for example, it has to become more difficult for parents to get in touch with schools or for schools to provide all these kind of ancillary social support networks around families. We might have to do that because we can’t pay for overtime.”

2. Most leaders shun workload toolkit

In 2018, the DfE published a school workload reduction toolkit. But it has not been well-read.

Teacher Tapp data shows around a third of senior leaders hadn’t even heard of it, another third had not read it and 23 per cent had read it but did not find it useful. Only 9 per cent reported finding it useful.

Allen told MPs the toolkit was a “big document”.

“You need to invest about 100 hours of senior leadership time in really working through it.”

Teacher Tapp data also shows low take-up of the 2021 staff wellbeing charter and this year’s flexible working toolkit.

Asked if there was a “problem with comms”, Allen replied: “Do you know how many emails you get if you’re a senior leader?

“The only way you deal with your job is through mass deletion of emails every day. And one of them unfortunately would have been the email about the flexible working toolkit.”

3. Teachers can’t cut their hours

The government has stepped up its work to encourage schools to offer flexible working.

But although around 4 in 10 teachers say they are interested in flexible working, Allen warned “if we allowed them to flexibly work, they would reduce their hours and we would have to find some more teachers from somewhere”.

“I think we have to focus on the bits of workload that we can solve, which is keeping the school day as short as possible for teachers, getting them out at the end of the day and home and on with their lives as our primary strategy.

“And I say that because any alternative strategy involves existing teachers working fewer hours, and at the moment we don’t have any other teachers to plug the gap.”

4. Late starts and early finishes boost wellbeing

Flexible working strategies don’t need to be “complicated and terribly difficult”, according to Sinead Mc Brearty, CEO of Education Support.

She said Northampton Academy “allows staff to come in late or go home early one day a week, and they worked that into the timetable”.

“Now this doesn’t seem to me an extraordinarily difficult or onerous thing to do, but for them it’s been transformative for how staff feel they’re being treated. And it has upsides in terms of reducing attrition but also reducing the need for supply staff because you find improvements in sickness.”

5. ‘We wring the purpose out of teachers’

Mc Brearty said schools had a workforce that was “deeply connected to its purpose, that comes here with really high ambition and aspiration to do good work”.

Sinéad Mc Brearty
Sinéad Mc Brearty

“And somehow we manage to wring that out of people along the way. And there’s a really huge lost opportunity in it. Other industries would give their left arm for the level of purpose that we see in the workforce in education.”

She said teachers who felt they could make a difference to pupils’ lives had their sense of purpose “met”, but if they did not feel that way “that’s a much less satisfying experience as a teacher”.

“And at that point to be fair…if you think ‘I can’t make a difference, the sense of purpose I brought here isn’t being met’, it’s a pretty rational decision to decide ‘I’m going to go and do something else.”

6. Education ‘prioritises performance over wellbeing’

Teacher Tapp data shows the proportion of teachers reporting at least some feelings of burnout has increased from 51 per cent in October 2018 to 70 per cent last month.

Mc Brearty warned MPs that the culture in education “prioritises performance over wellbeing”.

“I think we have historically seen those two things as mutually exclusive. That you can drive performance and if wellbeing suffers, then so be it.

“But I think what we increasingly understand because the evidence more broadly is better, is that performance and wellbeing are intrinsically linked, and if you want sustainable performance, then you have to address both.”

7. Teachers get ‘stuck’ at top of pay scale

Luke Sibieta, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told MPs that pay for early-career teachers in England “compares relatively well” with other industries for most subjects.

But when you compare pay of older, more experienced teachers with the private sector, teaching “doesn’t look as good anymore at all”.

This is because teaching “gets to a ceiling where you can’t really go much further without becoming a deputy head or a head”.

So teachers end up “stuck at the top” of the upper pay scale, while their private sector counterparts “see continued pay progression”.

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  1. It strikes me that we are expecting school leaders, heads in particular, to have all the answers. This problem does exist in other organisations and professions, but in the main people with the right skills are looking at it (say a suitably qualified HR professional working at Board level), not the people running the show. It might be time to professionalise the support functions and reap the benefits that can bring.

  2. S. Turner

    One of my daughter’s is a teacher in a FE who tries hard not to bring her work home. The impact?
    She works till 7pm most nights and once a week until 8pm. Her bosses know this and encourage it. She is not the only one.
    Result is that during the school week she doesn’t see her own kids. Leaving it to her husband, friends and Grandparents.

    • Gezzer P

      It’s ok they will say nice things and do nothing, realising they will not be in power for much longer. Then the other lot can take the blame for over a decade of this toxicity. Thank god I got out for my own health, but the real tragedy is I didn’t want to. Take education away from one party politics.