Keeping ‘the main thing’ as the main thing – teachers enjoy teaching

By Sarah Longshaw posted 25-04-2023 11:38

The Government’s latest research report into the working lives of teachers and leaders makes for grim reading - although not unexpected unless you’ve managed to avoid the news in recent months. 
The survey, carried out in spring 2022, spoke to more than 11,000 teachers. The findings show that many teachers and leaders are working in excess of a 50 hour week (with leaders working an average of 57.5 hours) despite a government pledge in 2019 to reduce working hours. In the three years since, working weeks have dropped by less than an hour. For reference, according to Office for National Statistics analysis, between April and June 2022 the average working week for all industries was 36.4 hours.
Two thirds of teachers reported that they spend more than half of their working time on tasks not related to teaching - including administrative and data tasks and following up behaviour incidents, as well as planning lessons and marking (this percentage is higher in secondary settings). 72% felt their workload was not acceptable and 62% felt that they had insufficient control over it. Most schools have tried to improve workload with the most successful revisions (20%) being made to marking and feedback. However, where changes had been made to data tracking, this was more likely to add to rather than reduce workload.  
A quarter of teachers and leaders in the state sector said they were planning to leave in the year after the survey was carried out, for reasons other than retirement. Reasons cited were high workload (92%), government initiatives or policy changes (76%) and pressures associated with accountability (68%). 

Recruitment challenges 
Data from the National Foundation for Education Research highlights further challenges with teacher supply due to under-recruitment, and this is particularly concerning in specific STEM subjects – such as Physics, Maths and Computer Science. Moreover, it can also increase workload – for example through the preparation of cover work for classes without regular teachers or the increased time required to be able teach a subject you don’t specialise in. Also, we are not just experiencing shortages of teachers. It’s harder for schools to recruit and retain essential support staff such as Teaching Assistants and Science Technicians, which is another factor likely to negatively impact on teacher workload.
Views on job satisfaction were mixed with 56-59% of teachers and leaders satisfied with their jobs, although a significant majority of respondents with teaching responsibility (84%) stated they enjoyed it with only 3% claiming that they never or rarely do. The majority of teachers and leaders feel valued (though not necessarily rewarded) by their schools but nearly 70% felt that society doesn’t value the profession, and a third felt even more strongly about the negative public perception.

Teachers and leaders had lower wellbeing than the average for the UK population. More than 80% reported experiencing stress in their work, and around 60% claimed their job didn’t leave time for their personal life. Behaviour of pupils was linked to anxiety levels of teachers; anxiety being higher where behaviour was poor.
Secondary teachers were largely confident in their ability to teach their main subject, but less so to teach additional subjects. Primary teachers were around 90% confident in teaching English and Maths, but only 76% confident in teaching science. While the majority of teachers (98%) had taken part in CPD during the previous year, only 65% of this was concerned with a specific phase, subject or pedagogy and 43% would like more of this CPD in the next 12 months. The impact of the CPD was reported to be variable with 30% believing it to have a high impact on their ability to perform their role and 16% saying it had little or none. Unsurprisingly the barriers to CPD were lack of time due to workload or competing priorities (66%), with cost (42%) and lack of cover (41%) also cited.
Digging deeper into the detail reveals the variations between phase, experience, age, role and ethnicity all of which influence responses. Others will undoubtedly analyse the findings in more depth, but let’s pause for a moment. Stephen Covey, the author of 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' states that we should ‘keep the main thing the main thing’ and for teachers, surely this is keeping teaching front and centre. After all, as the report confirms, the large majority of teachers do enjoy teaching.   
Our recently published STEM Insights Magazines featured a blog from our Education Strategy Lead Dave Gibbs on how to make the most of professional development – read it here - and join in the debate on STEM Community.

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