Low pay and long hours: Why our teachers burn out so quickly

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TEACHERS IN England are working longer hours and have lower starting pay than in most other developed countries in the world and risk burning out in the early stages of their career, a new report has warned.

The average secondary school teacher in this country works more than 48 hours a week and one-in-five work more than 60 hours according to analysis published today.

But despite this their starting pay is well below the average across the 36 member countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Former schools minister David Laws has accused politicians of spending too much time tinkering with school structures and not enough time focused on how to improve teaching in schools

Mr Laws, the executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute who produced the report said: “It highlights that the English education system is unusual internationally in its long working hours for teachers, low levels of professional development, and what looks like a high burn out rate of teachers. Combined with relatively low starting pay for teachers in England, these three features of our school system have clear risks for recruiting, retaining and developing a high quality teacher workforce.”

The report examines teachers’ working hours, pay, and experience in secondary schools using the OECD’s latest Teaching and Learning International Survey.

It founds that full time teachers work an average of 48.2 hours per week – the third highest out of all jurisdictions compared, 19 per cent longer than the average elsewhere. Around a fifth of teachers in England reported that they worked 60 hours or more in the latest week. This was said to be down to extra time spent marking pupils’ work or administration rather than teaching time.

The report also found that long working hours are hindering teachers’ access to continuing professional development (CPD). Of 36 jurisdictions, England ranked 30th in average number of days spent each year on some key forms of CPD.

The findings follow a report by the NASUWT union on the impact of workload on teacher’s mental health. Anonymous comments from teachers in Yorkshire in this survey shed some light into the pressure being felt by some classroom staff.

One teacher said: “Extreme excessive workload resulted in a breakdown. I was off work for 6 months. Now on maternity. Don’t know how I will cope with pressures when I return. Considering leaving teaching. It is not a job that you can do with a young family.”

Another said “I am not able to relax or be myself. I am constantly on edge and worried about excessive observation and scrutiny and a preoccupation with targets and unacceptable marking policies.”

“Feeling overly anxious, lacking confidence, irritable, upset, overwhelmed. Not able to celebrate or recognise positive things in family life.”

Commenting on the new report from the EPI Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “This report shows just how much damage is being done to the teaching profession. Faced with long working hours, unmanageable workloads, weak training and low starting salaries, why would graduates choose to enter teaching? The government must wake up to this reality and make the changes necessary to ensure a workforce that can deliver the best education for all. It’s not rocket science: pay people properly and treat them well.”

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: “Teaching has always been a long hours profession, but hours spent preparing exciting lessons are very different to hours spent providing evidence for bureaucrats. The fact that teachers are working 60 hours a week is totally unacceptable and is exacerbating the teacher shortage.

“The report confirms what the NUT has been saying – that excessive accountability measures, which have little to do with improving education, are the driving force behind this long-hours culture.”

However a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want every child to have access to great teachers that aren’t bogged down with unnecessary workload so they have the time and freedom to do what they do best - inspire the next generation. We recognise teachers’ concerns and are continuing to work with the sector to find constructive solutions to this issue.

“Teaching remains an attractive career and we have more teachers entering our classrooms than those choosing to leave or retire. Teacher retention has been broadly stable for 20 years and the annual average salaries for teachers in the UK are also greater than the OECD average, and higher than many of Europe’s high-performing education systems like Finland, Norway or Sweden.

“We trust heads, governors and school leaders to make sure their staff and teachers have all the support and professional development they need. We recently also brought together an expert group of teachers, headteachers and academics who helped design a new standard for teachers’ professional development. ”