Reclaim your Week

The last couple of weeks have seen women in France and the UK leave work early to recognise the fact that with salaries typically fifteen percent below those of men we work the last few weeks of every year for free.

But when do teachers start working for free?  It’s an answer that surprised even me.

In 2013 the DfE’s own survey found that primary teachers were working an average of 59.3 hours a week.  To calculate the accumulated overwork I assumed an acceptable working week to be 39 hours.  As productivity can be shown to decline after thirty-five hours, this seems to be a sensible norm.

Because we teachers don’t get paid for holiday – yes, don’t get paid for holidays – we should stop working around the first week in September.  We work nearly a whole term for free, in other words, an extra seven hundred and seventy-one hours a year.

So what does this mean for the profession?  Most teachers are unhappy with their workload; an NASUWT survey last year found that around seventy percent had considered leaving the profession entirely in the past year.  Time off for stress is also increasing.  Remember that stress is not bad per se, it can help us to get things done.  But as we endure more stress, and high workload is a cause of this, it becomes harder to deal with, resulting in anxiety, depression and potentially a need to change career.

Where headteachers and local authorities do try to protect their staff from stress it can be a struggle to intervene effectively.  The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) which is essentially a teacher’s contract refers repeatedly to work life balance.   The governing body have a statutory duty to ensure it.  Yet the STPCD also enshrines the appraisal system and salary progression regime that means that heads and teachers rarely dare knock off on time.

In other words, it’s a broken system and one that needs to be rebuilt.

Empirical research repeatedly points to a thirty-five hour working week being the optimum.  In addition, a staffroom culture that praises colleagues can be shown to generate greater productivity.  This should mean teachers preparing and teaching higher quality lessons and students achieving better results.  Given the rapidity with which new educational initiatives are implemented in this country it seems like common sense to give consideration to a regime of fewer hours and more recognition.

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