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Of the 4,450 respondents to the Guardian’s teachers’ lives survey, 82% stated that their workload was unmanageable, with two-thirds saying that expectations had increased significantly over the past five years. And 73% of respondents said their workload was affecting their physical health and 76% their mental health. Almost a third of teachers reported that they worked more than 60 hours a week.
Teachers cited data input, government policy changes and unrealistic targets as the biggest contributors to their workload.
More than half of those who took the survey were classroom teachers and the majority of respondents were from the state sector.
For some, enough is enough. One in five teachers said they intended to leave the profession because they felt overworked. A further 36% of teachers said they “agreed somewhat” that they wanted to leave teaching for this reason.
The Guardian’s findings on how teacher wellbeing and workload are linked is backed up by previous research by the Education Support Partnership (ESP); eight out of 10 teachers it surveyed had suffered a mental health problem in the past two years. A 2014 survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) also found that teachers had noticed a rise in mental health problems among colleagues over recent years. Both found links to workload.
“Teachers have no time left for reflection,” said Julian Stanley, chief executive of ESP. “There’s more attention than ever before on children’s mental health, but there needs to be this level of support for teachers too. For many, it’s hard to reveal they’re dealing with anxiety or depression.”
Of the majority of teachers who saw themselves remaining in the profession for the next five years, nearly one in four aspired to join their school’s senior leadership team (SLT) in that time.
A fear of increased workload and a poorer work-life balance were among the most common reasons respondents gave for not seeking a promotion.
“I already spend more than enough of my time doing data,” said one teacher. “But it is an increasing part of the role the higher you get in management. I don’t want to give up my time in the classroom with the children, my favourite part of the job, to spend my days looking at spreadsheets about pupil progress.”
Teachers in London appeared to be most ambitious, with only 32% seeing themselves in the same role in five years’ time and 34% believing a promotion to their school’s SLT was on the cards.
Student teachers were the most optimistic about the speed of their career advancement – 43% believed they would be in the SLT within five years, compared with only 17% of classroom teachers.
UK-wide, only 5% of those surveyed saw themselves as headteacher in five years’ time. When the survey pool was narrowed down to teachers who were already deputy and assistant headteachers, however, the figures rose to 44% and 25% respectively.
“I’m not surprised not many teachers aspire to be headteacher,” said Valentine Mullholland, policy adviser at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). “We’re seeing an increase in school leaders being dismissed if they have one bad inspection. ‘Football manager syndrome’ is on the rise in British schools.”
More than half of the teachers the Guardian surveyed also said they had experienced bullying in the workplace, which Mullholland put down to pressure on headteachers to meet targets trickling down through the hierarchy. “There’s one chance only for schools to pass an Ofsted inspection and that pressure is felt throughout – in the past three years, there’s been unprecedented change in qualifications, curriculum and assessment, and that requires a large number of changes from teachers to implement. And then some of these changes are questioned only 18 months later.”
Considering an overwhelming majority of teachers told the Guardian they wouldn’t recommend their job to others because of the workload, it wasn’t surprising that almost 80% of the 544 teachers responsible for recruiting who were surveyed said they had struggled to recruit new staff in the past 12 months.
Recruiters said finding good candidates to fill vacancies was their biggest problem, and that teachers leaving the sector or moving to other schools was exacerbating the issue.
The NAHT’s 2015 recruitment survey of school leaders also found that a lack of good candidates was the primary reason for the recruitment crisis. “Part of the problem is the lack of graduates coming out of teacher training – the government again last year failed to reach quotas in some subject areas,” said Mullholland. “However, because of the accountability framework, recruiters also expect teachers to be great straightaway – new teachers are given no chance to learn on the job.”
More than 70% of teachers said they were worried that a shortage of good teachers was severely affecting children.
One respondent described how they were forced to get four teachers to cover a colleague’s maternity leave, which left the children with special educational needs unsettled. Another talked about their school’s struggle to recruit a maths teacher, saying that in their three previous schools, there were also issues recruiting a subject leader for maths. “Maths is a priority for government but we don’t have the staff to deliver the course,” they said.
While two in five teachers did not see themselves in the profession in five years’ time, they said an improved work-life balance, less bureaucracy and a salary increase would incentivise them to stay. Only 12% of teachers felt they had a good work-life balance.
More schools needed to make counselling available for their teachers and all newly qualified teachers (NQTs) should be guaranteed a mentor, said Stanley, who pointed out that the cost of not looking out for staff’s wellbeing could be damaging. “Health and wellbeing policies in schools should be mandatory and one of the things schools’ performance are measured on,” he added.
The Department for Education (DfE) needed to stop sending mixed messages, said Mullholland, who cited how education minister, Nicky Morgan’s, consultation on workload last year had resulted in 44,000 responses and an action plan but the DfE was still pushing ahead with more changes it deemed “necessary for the benefit of the children”.
“There are times when the government listen to us and our profession but there are not enough of those times,” Mullholland added.
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