It is a popular misconception that teachers have a short working day - from 9am - 3:30pm. The school day may be shorter than the standard office day but teachers put in many extra hours before and after the school day and at weekends. 

Teachers spend many hours planning lessons, marking work, assessing pupils, inputting data, organising and running extra-curricular activities and taking on wider-school roles and responsibilities. Health and Safety Executive statistics consistently show that teaching is one of the occupations experiencing the highest levels of work-related stress. Excessive workload is one of the key factors in this.

Another misconception is that teachers are not covered by the EU Working Time Directive. In fact all teachers are covered by the EU Directive and by the UK Working Time Regulations 1998 as amended. A further myth is that the statutory working time protections are negated by the School Teachers’ Pay & Conditions Document (STPCD). In fact the STPCD reinforces the legal position that it does not conflict with the Working Time Directive (para 51.1) It goes on to state explicitly that governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to the working limits set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998 when allocating work to teachers.(para 52.4)

Working time should not exceed on average 48 hours a week over a 17 week period.(para 52.1) The requirement on teachers to “work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of the teacher’s professional duties” does not displace this protection (para 51.7). Teachers are not included in the list of ‘exceptions’ to whom the 48 hour limit does not apply and the employers of those teachers have a duty to ensure that the working time limit is complied with.

Despite these protections, teachers continue to experience excessive workload expectations. In 2018, the NEU published the findings of its first workload survey.

The responses made for depressing reading, highlighting the negative impact of high workload on teachers, their families and ultimately on the school system.

Over four fifths (81%) of respondents said they had considered leaving teaching in the last year, 84% said workload was manageable only “sometimes” or “never” and over 80% reported that they are now teaching more hours than the average teaching hours in 2016.

The Department for Education published the findings of its 2016 Teachers' Working Time Survey in February 2017. It showed that teachers were working on average 54.4 hours per week, with 93% of teachers saying workload was a “fairly” or “very serious” problem. The survey revealed that teachers spent an average of 60% of working hours on tasks other than teaching. Primary teachers new to the profession were working nearly 19 hours per week outside school hours, causing many to leave the profession within just a few years of qualifying. School leaders' average weekly hours were even higher.

The findings of this survey were supported by a TUC analysis of unpaid overtime that was published on the same day (Work Your Proper Hours Day 2017). This showed that teaching and educational professionals were working an average of 12.1 hours of unpaid overtime per worker, placing them second only to Chief Executives who worked 13.2 hours of unpaid overtime.

Working hours of 55-60 hours a week, combined with continual change and upheaval makes for a stressful mix. Teachers’ working hours are also inflexible.  It is very difficult for teachers to take time off during term time, for example to attend an event at their own child’s school.

As a result of NEU pressure, the Government and school inspectorate Ofsted have finally recognised the adverse impact of excessive workload on teacher recruitment and retention. Ofsted has produced a video to reinforce its message that Ofsted does not expect to see certain practices that can contribute to excessive teacher workload in relation to marking, planning and data.  However, with over half of teachers reporting that their workload had actually increased since the launch of the Government’s ‘Workload Challenge’ in 2014, it is clear that the Government needs to go further.

In July 2018, the Government published its Workload Toolkit which school leaders can use with staff to seek to reduce workload at school level. Although this is a welcome development, its impact will depend on whether, and how, it is used in schools and what the outcomes are.