New research suggests reducing working hours will tackle teacher retention

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) releases report comparing recruitment and retention figures for teaching, nursing and the police – the research shows teachers work the joint highest number of hours annually and have the joint lowest average hourly pay

According to a new study by the NFER, teachers work the longest hours – 50 hours per week during term time – followed by police officers (44) and nurses (39).

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compares full-time teachers to nursing and policing – two of the other large and important public sector professions – using Understanding Society data, NFER examined characteristics of each profession’s workforce, earning, hours 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.

Working such long hours over prolonged periods can lead to pressure and stress and impact health and wellbeing – all of which may impact on staff retention.

The study also found that teachers’ average hourly pay – in real terms, after adjusting for inflation – has decreased by 15% since 2009/10.

Over the same period, average hourly pay has fallen by four per cent for nurses and and 11% for police officers.

In a flash of optimism, despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes – although not with their amount of leisure time.

 In figures:

  • 47% of teachers said they were satisfied with their amount of leisure time in 2015-16, the lowest of the three professions, while 43% said they were dissatisfied.
  • 78% 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% of teachers said they were satisfied with their income levels. Nurses and police officers are less satisfied with their income levels than teachers.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, commented: “Anyone working in schools knows how rewarding it can be. Teachers are graduates, who have many career choices open to them – they go into teaching with passion, because they care and want to make a difference. But with teachers working the joint highest number of hours annually, with the joint lowest average hourly pay, there is a real danger of them burning out.

“This report shows that teachers are more likely to leave their profession than nurses or police officers – 12.3% per year, compared to 9.9% for nurses and 7.7% for police. While 78% of teachers say they are satisfied with their jobs, 47% said they were unhappy with their amount of leisure time.

“Workload is a huge issue for teachers. NFER state that teachers who leave appear to be motivated by reduced working hours and more opportunities for flexible working. And that, despite popular belief, the long hours that teachers work during term time substantially exceed the amount of extra holiday time they may receive. Unfortunately many are finding the balance unworkable, and more and more great educators are simply tapping out.”

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James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, said: “The DfE’s own data shows that almost one in three teachers leave within five years of qualifying, and EPI research shows that more than half (52%) of teachers have less than 10 years’ experience. These are people that the profession can ill-afford to lose. Not only is the profession becoming less experienced, we are losing excellent teachers who have the potential to become school leaders in the future.”

Paul Whiteman continued: “Teachers’ real average hourly pay has seen a substantial fall over the last decade – 15% compared to four per cent and 11% for nurses and police officers. The case for more money for schools and a lift of the 1% pay cap is overwhelming – and urgent.

“Teachers, nurses and the police are all vitally important to this country, our children, and to the future. We shouldn’t have to compare how badly treated they are; their true value should be reflected in their pay and conditions.

“NAHT explained the issues around workload in our oral evidence to the STRB last week, and have submitted a joint union five per cent pay claim to begin to redress the real terms cuts to pay.”

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% of respondents said their pay was less or significantly less than they thought it should be given their workload and responsibilities. (1)

“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.”

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