Tackling excessive teacher workloads is a high priority for the education sector as it links to teacher wellbeing, job satisfaction and retention. We spoke to Matthew Walker, Research Manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), about the impact of high teacher workloads. Matthew discussed the patterns across Primary and Secondary schools shown in the Teacher Workload Survey.
What is the Teacher Workload Survey?
The survey asks teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders across schools in England about self-reported working hours and attitudes to teacher workload .
Matthew explained that the survey acts as a national barometer as well as capturing teacher perceptions of workload and working conditions, it is influential in informing the Department of Education’s policy and works as an indicator of whether policy efforts to reduce teacher’s workload are having an effect .
What were the main findings of the Survey?
The Teacher Workload Survey 2019 found a reduction of average total working hours of teachers a week from 54.4 hours in 2016 to 49.5 hours in 2019. While this reduction is positive it is still not sustainable. Teacher workload is frequently cited as one of the main reasons why they left the profession .
While the survey does show a decrease in workload 7 out of 10 primary teachers and 9 out of 10 secondary teachers report that they perceive their workload to be fairly or seriously problematic . Therefore, it is clear that there’s more work that needs to be done to reduce unnecessary workload.
The research shows that middle leader teachers and those early in their careers report working longer hours. But there are also differences in workload between teachers working in different school contexts .
“We also know that teachers from secondary schools have more negative views of their workload compared to those working in primary schools. It certainly depends on the context and the role”.
What are Schools Doing to Help Teachers Reduce the Workload? And, How Effective Have These Approaches Been?
Matthew told us:
“I think one of the reasons that we’re some signs of improvement is because of the fact that policy action in this area is beginning to show. One of the things we were able to do with the 2019 teacher workload survey was to introduce a new question which explored whether school policies or approaches had been revised as part of a specific attempt to reduce workloads.”Matthew Walker, Research Manager , National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), 2020
The survey reported that in many areas they had attempted to reduce workload, specifically in terms of data tracking, lesson planning, school behaviour and marking and feedback. However, when asking what difference this has made to workload, it was found that in almost all cases there hasn’t been a reduction. In fact, in a small number of cases teachers reported that these changes had actually resulted in an increase in workload .
Generally, the Teacher Workload Survey has shown improvements, but there is still significant progress to be made. While most teachers feel that their workload has improved, these feelings still vary.
Research conducted by Dr Jane Perryman and Graham Calvert, Professors from the UCL department of Curriculum, Pedagogy & Assessment, found that ‘it was the nature rather than the quantity of workload, linked to notions of performativity and accountability that was a crucial factor’ in teacher dissatisfaction . Their paper, published April 2019, What motivates people to teach, and why do they leave? Accountability, performativity and teacher retention, expanded further: ‘Many of our samples thought they could cope with the workload, but lack of support and the target accountability culture seemed to be worse than they had thought and led to many leaving’ .
Therefore, we must consider what can be done to assist these teachers beyond reducing workload. Jane and Graham concluded that their research ‘indicates that part of the problem lies within the culture of teaching, the constant scrutiny, the need to perform and hyper-critical management. Reducing workload will not address these cultural issues.’ .
Perhaps the survey needs to look more widely to understand more precisely why and how the workload is having a negative impact on teachers. Matthew agreed, stating that where there were positive results we need to understand ‘what specifically did they do and how could we apply that learning to other settings where they haven’t experienced those improvements? There is still space for further investigation and learning’ .
 gov.uk. 2019. Teacher workload survey 2019 [online] [Accessed 15/04/21]
 MGC Interview with Matthew Walker, Research Manager , National Foundation for Educational Research, 2020
 UCL.ac.uk. 2019. Teachers are leaving the profession due to the nature of workload, research suggests. [online] [Accessed 15/04/21]
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